Lucas County, like many communities across the country, has been gripped by an epidemic of heroin, opiate, and fentanyl addiction. These powerful drugs have been destroying families and claiming lives at a record pace.
According to the Lucas County Coroner’s office, 113 people died in Lucas County as a result of a heroin, opiate, or fentanyl overdose in 2015, and another 29 in the first quarter of this year.
Thankfully, our legislative leaders and the medical community are meeting this epidemic head on, allocating time and money to help adults kick their addiction.
However, two critical aspects of this epidemic have not received the attention — or the funding — they deserve: the impact that adult heroin, opiate, and fentanyl addictions are having on children, and the lack of detoxification resources for minors.
In 2015, half of all cases opened to Lucas County Children Services involved substance use by one or both parents. Among those cases, 59 percent involved heroin or opiates. Among all cases opened with substance abuse listed as the primary problem, 74 percent involved heroin or opiates. We have only recently begun tracking fentanyl use among the parents we serve.
What has this meant for LCCS? The agency has been bursting at the seams to care for children whose parents are impaired by addiction. At the end of April, LCCS had 80 more children in foster care than at the same time a year ago. Our agency has been seeing babies born nearly every week addicted to these drugs. There are few things more heart-wrenching than seeing newborns writhe in pain from withdrawal.
They cry inconsolably and shake uncontrollably. They have difficulty sleeping and eating. They spend days, even weeks, in the hospital, as medical professionals try to wean them from the drugs that their mothers ingested.
Even after being released from the hospital, they require close attention and special care to recover.
Those newborns are not the only victims. Our caseworkers have been seeing families with children who’ve been neglected while their parents struggle with the problems in their lives.
Sometimes an older child has become a surrogate parent, becoming responsible for his or her siblings’ well-being far beyond what is age appropriate. That’s child abuse, as well, and dangerous for all involved.
We have also seen teens become addicted to these drugs after witnessing their parents get high. This feeds into our second community problem — the lack of available detoxification resources for minors in northwest Ohio. Unless parents can manage to get their child admitted into a hospital, there are no detoxification facilities designated for teens. We must make these facilities available, before youth die while trying to get clean on their own, without the needed medical supervision.
We are committed to protecting children at a sustainable cost. As a community, we must insist that — and help — parents take responsibility for their children, even knowing that at this particular time they are human beings at their lowest point. The decision to become a parent is an important one, and we have to do everything possible to connect mothers and fathers with preventative and supportive services that can help them safely care for their own children, because these children are hurting. No judgment ... only grace.
All of this is happening at a time when the number of foster parents in Lucas County is at an all-time low. Baby Boomers are retiring, and many millennials are telling us that they are too saddled by debt or underemployment to provide the stability that foster care requires. LCCS has set a goal of recruiting and licensing 400 new foster caregivers in 2016 just to meet the current need. We’re making progress, but still have a long way to go. Becoming a foster parent is easier than you think; information on the process is provided at lucaskids.net.
The mission of Lucas County Children Services is to lead the community in the protection of children from abuse and neglect. However, our style of leadership is more of a partnership — alongside foster and relative caregivers, the courts, law enforcement, treatment facilities, faith leaders, and others who provide valuable support to families in trouble.
We must work together to both end opiate abuse and to ensure that our local, state, and federal governments provide us with adequate resources to care for the children who are innocent victims of this epidemic.
Robin Reese is the executive director of Lucas County Children Services.
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