As the heroin epidemic continues to grow, it becomes heartbreakingly clear just how much of an effect it can have on the next generation. Children all over the country are calling 9-1-1 to inform the dispatcher that they have either just witnessed the death of their parent, or that they think their parent is dying when, in actuality, the parent is suffering an overdose.
Lynne Dean, the assistant county attorney for Boyle County, told The Advocate Messenger that family court cases have been on the rise as courts hear constant cases of children suffering abuse and neglect at the hands of their drug-addled parents. One of the major causes for this uptick in cases is heroin and the impact it can have on families when one or more people in the family is an addict.
It is important to remember that heroin does not discriminate. It is not just those living in poverty who can become addicted. Even those with good jobs and college degrees are finding themselves fighting addiction. A major reason for this is painkillers. People suffer an injury, are prescribed painkillers to stave off the pain (sometimes they are overprescribed), and they are then taken off of the painkillers by their doctors when it's too late and when they have already developed a crippling addiction. Then they have no choice but to get their drugs on the black market.
Dean has seen the deaths of several people that she had prosecuted over the past couple of months. She emphasized how sad it was for people to be given the opportunity to get clean and they unfortunately do not. She said she often wonders what would have happened if she had instead left them in jail.
Dale Suttles of Sunrise Children's Services said that the word "epidemic" is simply "not a strong enough word" to describe the havoc that heroin can wreak on families. Families are being ripped apart and, as Suttles puts it, "the collateral damage is children." Children are left with an incredible burden of responsibility and knowledge they should not have to deal with at such a young age. Sunrise is desperately seeking people who are interested in becoming foster parents to children who are being left parent-less –either through death or by the court system – at an alarming rate.
Dean said that in her experience, many of her clients have not shown up for court, and this is due, in part, to the effect that heroin can have on them. As a result, more and more parents are experiencing difficulties in having their children returned after they had already been taken away as a result of their heroin usage.
Dean explained that while the opposite may sound true, taking children from their parents is "not a decision [that is] made lightly," and that the children tend to be rather resilient in spite of everything, which makes the situation even more heartbreaking that these children can be so strong in the face of their parents' weakness.