I was up late at night recently watching a documentary about drug addiction. This episode shadowed the chilling exploits of an addict – from lying to her physician, to strong-arming family into giving her money, to selling her prescriptions, to shooting up, to nearly overdosing.

The unscripted show was graphic and sickening — a far cry from the Pollyanna-ish shows I generally watch. I had to shield my eyes a few times; but, it gave me a visual impression of what appears in our headlines all too frequently.

This is a story that unfortunately resonates with so many families right here in our own community. Substance use – including heroin use – touches rich families and poor families, professionals and the unemployed, high schoolers and thirty-somethings – and far, far beyond. Sadly, there is no economic, demographic, geographic or religious boundary that is a barrier. If there were, we could prevent another person from dying or becoming trapped by the grip of heroin and other substances.

Interestingly, it wasn’t a desire to get “high” that brought the young lady featured in this program to use drugs. Rather, it was an effort to push away her emotional pain. She had been sexually abused as a child over a long period of time, and told no one. Incidentally, wide bodies of research point to a high correlation of sexual abuse and substance use.

It was an inescapable pain that she was carrying and additional family and personal issues left her sad, confused and lonely. It was her friend’s mother who gave her the first pill. She constantly pursued a feeling which rivaled that first “high,” moving on to dangerous cocktails of pills and heroin to recapture it. Meanwhile, she kept telling herself, and her family, that she could quit on her own terms. That was an illusion.

The pain that she hoped to erase with that very first pill never went away. Instead, things only got worse. All of her thoughts and energies went into getting the next “hit.” All of the pride she gained from the prospect of taking over the family business vanished. She appeared sleepy and lethargic, and barely able to complete a sentence. She became unreliable, belligerent and combative.

She wasn’t using heroin to get “high,” she was using it simply to function – basically to get up and buy more drugs. She referred to herself as a “functioning addict” but her view of “functioning” was distorted. She needed someone to babysit her in case she needed an antidote in the event of an overdose.

Hundreds of other stories like this are on television. Unfortunately, they are also in the homes and streets of our community. Addiction’s most innocent victim is the child whose parent is endangering his life or deemed to be unfit to care for him or her.

The Indiana Department of Child Services reports that in 2016, 52.7 percent of children were taken from their homes due to substance use. DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura adds that “‘people in the business’ believe substance abuse is more likely involved in up to 90 percent of child removals.” (South Bend Tribune, 2016) DCS released the 2016 assessment decisions from their investigations, and it’s a staggering report.

La Porte County had 373 substantiated cases of maltreatment, which comprises physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. This is a 62 percent increase over the previous year.

When a parent is involved with substances, its harm or potential harm to a child is vast: driving with a child while under the influence, manufacturing drugs in a home where a child is present, leaving needles or lighters within reach, bringing strangers into the home, leaving a child in the care of an unfamiliar or inappropriate person, leaving the child unsupervised, being unable to see to the child’s food, clothing, medical care, safety and education and depriving the child of love and attention are just a few of the ways that substance use may endanger a child.

A child who is exposed to substance use and all of the risky behaviors associated it may come to know it as normal, acceptable behavior, and is at an increased risk for duplicating that behavior – perhaps even using alongside his or her parents.

Children need a dependable, loving, nurturing home to thrive. Let the legacy to your children be your freckles, dimples or crooked pinky - not substance use. Help is available - visit La Porte County’s website http://www.laportecounty.org/SocialServices/AddictionServices/

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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