When parents have problems with drugs, children do, too

“We’re number 1!” Words typically associated with a victory celebration carry a more dubious distinction in Indiana.

According to the KIDS COUNT in Indiana Data Book, in 2014 Indiana logged the highest number of methamphetamine incidents in the nation. Meth incidents occur when police find an active meth lab, dumpsite or seize equipment or ingredients used to make meth.

Caught in the middle are more than 350 children who were removed from their homes because of these conditions. In Muncie recently, a 16-year-old girl reportedly suffered third-degree burns from a meth mishap in her home.

“Quite often, we’re uprooting those young people with just the clothes on their back because when we find meth labs, we find the associated toxic environment that goes with the making of meth,” said Sgt. Tony Slocum of the Indiana State Police.

A recent survey found 13.4 percent of Hoosier children have lived with someone who had a drug or alcohol problem, worse than the national rate of 10.7 percent. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a parent with a substance use disorder is three times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child.

That reality is playing out across Indiana. Department of Child Services spokesman James Wide says there’s been a “70 percent increase in the number of our cases that have drug involvement.”

In rural Scott County, police, public health and community leaders are battling a prescription drug and heroin abuse problem. The KIDS COUNT Data Book shows that from 2011 to 2014, Scott County’s child abuse and neglect rate doubled, the number of child neglect cases rose 116 percent, and child physical abuse cases increased 142 percent.

Michelle Korty of Prevent Child Abuse Scott County said “90-95 percent or higher” of abuse and neglect cases in Scott County are tied to drugs.

Korty said some parents are so fixated on chasing their next high that “very little of their time, energy and resources is left to focus on providing the safe, nurturing environment and for meeting the basic needs of their children.”

The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress reports children exposed to parents who abuse drugs can suffer long-term physical and psychological damage.

They blame themselves for their parents’ problems. They feel rejection and resentment when left alone for long periods of time, and are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and struggle to form adult relationships.

“We have got to change the conversation,” said Republican State Sen. Jim Merritt of Indianapolis, who has introduced several new pieces of legislation related to the enforcement of drug laws and treatment for drug addiction. “We’ve always thought of it as a character issue. I always say drug addiction is a disease, not a character flaw.”

John Wernert, a licensed psychiatrist and secretary of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration, agrees and says the state is doing more to help addicts manage their disease. “We understand these are chronically relapsing diseases and it may take someone 8, 10, 12 times to go through detoxification before they actually make a commitment to sobriety and staying clean.”

In the meantime, some of Indiana’s children will continue to suffer. State law says that all Hoosiers are mandatory reporters—meaning if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you are required to file a report. You can do so by calling the state’s toll-free child abuse hotline number, 800-800-5556.

Taking that step may be one way to ensure that the health, safety, and future of some of our state’s most vulnerable children will become priority number one.

Glenn Augustine is the Interim CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to dreditorial@greenfieldreporter.com.