By RAY WILBUR
Capital News Service
LANSING — The use of prescription opiates, heroin and other drugs is a rising statewide epidemic that threatens the future of more children.
Drug overdose was the number-one cause of injury-related deaths for Michigan adults in 2014 when they jumped to 1,745. That’s about a 12 percent increase over the previous year, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data.
The illegal use of drugs, specifically prescription opiates, has steadily increased during the past five years, said Alicia Guevara-Warren, Kids Count project director for the Michigan League for Public Policy.
But the real state-altering issue here is the children’s lives that are uprooted as a result, she said.
The number of children of parents with substance abuse problems and who entered foster care rose from 6,989 in 2011 to 7,971 in 2013, which Guevara-Warren said is the latest reliable data.
In 2014, there were 9,133 children exposed to drug activity, the state Child Protective Services agency reports, and that could be far fewer than the actual number, said Bob Wheaton, public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, because of a switch to a new reporting system.
Exposure to drug activity includes living in a home where drugs are dealt or made, having parents who possess drugs or parents who use them around their children.
In 2014, about 550 children grew up in a home where meth was sold, according to Child Protective Services statistics.
“It’s the biggest issue we deal with from a prosecutor’s standpoint,” said Daryl Vizina, the Cheboygan County prosecutor. “These prescription drugs are significantly more addictive, more dangerous and result in more overdoses than other traditional drugs.”
In Cheboygan, about 72 percent of convicted felony cases related to drugs in 2015, Vizina said. But the more staggering number is the 185 children those felons left behind.
Such children can take up residence with extended family permanently or while their parents enter drug treatment programs, or they could go directly to the Department of Health and Human Services to be put in foster care, which Vizina said is a sad ending.
Cheboygan County is dealing with an epidemic that is no different from those in other counties statewide, Vizina said.
In the Charlevoix area, the number of children living with their grandparents has increased, said Scott Kelly, executive director of Bay Area Substance Education Services in Petoskey.
“This is just one impact that more drug use can have on the children of our state,” Kelly said. “If we want to help our children, we have to help our addicts.”
In 2015, Kent County had 536 children between the ages of 1 and 8 in out-of-home care as a result of abuse or neglect, up by nearly 40 from 2014. Most of those are drug-related, Kelly said.
One of the most concerning consequences of drug use is the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — that causes babies to experience the effects of drug withdrawal — as a result of being exposed to drugs while in the womb, Wheaton said.
Symptoms can include poor appetite, rapid breathing, seizures, sleep problems and slow weight gain.
Roughly 2,500 Michigan babies were born with the syndrome in 2014, nearly six times more than in 2010, when 404 babies suffered from the syndrome.
It is common for the mother to have been addicted to prescription drugs in these cases, Wheaton said.
“The overall issue of opioid abuse has been an issue nationwide,” he said. “The impact it has on children is the one we’re particularly concerned with.”
Still, the overall number of children entering foster care in the state is going down, not up, Wheaton said.
“That’s not because of a decrease in child abuse and neglect complaints or investigations,” he said. “It’s due to our efforts to find ways to keep children safely in their homes by providing services to families.”
Gov. Rick Snyder created the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission in June to recommend policy ideas to quell the use of these drugs, although no bills have been introduced to address the issues children face in these situations.
The challenge, Vizina said, is that to help children, we have to help their parents first.
“And drugs are a very hard thing to stop people from doing,” he said.
By RAY WILBUR