Treatment Programs For Mothers With Addiction Scarce

Oct 9, 2018

Valarie, a patient at Amethyst, faces problems typical of mothers struggling with addiction.
Credit Ohio Public Radio

Opioid abuse is taking its toll on Ohio families, especially children who often find themselves being passed from one place to another with no stability.

And sometimes, those children suffer from the trauma they experience while with their drug addicted parent. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

In 2015, the state says a total of more than 2,100 Ohio newsborns were treated for withdrawal.  84 babies a day, averaging two weeks in the hospital.  And the numbers are increasing.  That's why Brigid's Path, a center for drug-addicted infants, was created in Kettering.  Jill Kingston is it's director.


“When a baby goes through withdrawal, you might see them shake a lot and that’s called tremor. They have a high-pitched sound. They scream. They cry a lot. They might have a hard time feeding.”


The babies are cared for around-the-clock, until they've finished with medicarted withdrawl.  And while that's happening the mother gets treatment.  The center tries to find a family member willing to take care of the baby until the mother is clean and able to take care of the infant.  But sometimes there is no choice but to put the baby in the already burgeoning foster care system.  


That's a problem Kristi Burre knows all too well. She says 8 out of 10 kids now in protective custody in Fairfield County are there because parental substance abuse. And she explains 65% of them are placed outside Fairfield County and spread throughout 30 counties across the state.


“When we can’t keep a child close to home, that means they’re leaving their community, they are often times leaving their schools, leaving their friends, leaving their church, leaving their social activities. When we think about the impact that has on a child’s mental health and when we look at that through a trauma lens, there’s no wonder they’re having all kinds of issues.”


Burre says 25% of the kids coming into the system now have experienced trauma significant enough that they require mental health treatment. She says that's up from 3% a few years ago.  Burre says there are not enough centers, so sometimes those kids have to be taken outside the state, as far away as Missouri.


Comprehensive treatment centers such as Amethyst in Columbus, which offer treatment for the mother and her children, are rare. Valarie - who doesn't want her last name used - is one such mom.  Her 9- and 12-year old boys are living with their grandma while she gets treatment.  It's a far cry from just a dozen years ago, when she was a straight A student in nursing school.  But after her mother passed away, Valerie turned to drugs.  When she couldn't afford the drugs, she turned to soliciting, which landed her in jail. 


“My addiction took me to a place where I wasn’t even able to call and check on my kids. I missed birthdays and holidays. And that’s something I’ll never be able to give back to them. I pray to God they learn from me. Their Dad was in addiction as well. When he overdosed, they were there to find him. They found their Dad.”


Once Valarie is stable and regains custody, the kids can live with her at Amethyst where they will also receive counseling and programming.  It's the only gender specific treatment center of its kind in the state and one of only three in the nation that allows children. And it’s always full – serving an average of 400 women a year.  Linda Janes is the Chief Program Officer of Alvis, the agency that oversees Amethyst.


“For a complete year, it’s just under $10,000 per year but that includes everything – the intensive treatment, the summer camp program, our after-school program, food, clothing, it’s all of the support services. A good point of comparison is it costs over $22,000 to incarcerate somebody each year so if you think about that, we are half the cost of incarceration. Our research shows we are more effective and we prevent a woman from going to prison, from being separated from her family permanently and then coming out of prison with those collateral sanctions of being an inmate in Ohio.”


Linda Janes says more needs to be spent on treatment but she says communities also need to be more welcoming to treatment centers such as this one.