When children are addicts

A Washington Post reporter has caused an uproar by describing the plight of an eight- year-old heroin addict and sticking by a pledge of anonymity to him and his drug-dealing parents. The episode has prompted action to find the child by other means and roused debate over a reporter's right not to disclose sources in such poignant circumstances.

To our minds there is no doubt about the reporter's right -- and, indeed, duty -- to protect the family's anonymity once such a promise was given. The heartbreaking question here, as in so many cases when a reporter or photographer witnesses an individual in grave trouble, is whether the observer can do anything "practical" to help beyond conveying what has been observed. It is one to be fully answered only by the person on the spot who has a complete grasp of the situation.

What seems clear in this instance is the potentiality of drawing constructive attention to the whole tragic problem of drugged children and drugging adults by focusing on the victimization of one boy by those who should most have cared for him. That his thralldom could apparently go on for years undetected and uncorrected suggests how much improvement is demanded in the enforcement of drug law. Renewed efforts to meet the problem for all could reach to him, too.

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