A Crisis Falling by the Wayside

Concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic are eclipsing another very real, preexisting crisis: the opioid crisis. Heroin overdose continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans each year. It also results in babies born addicted to drugs and separated from their families. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, it’s essential to recognize that your struggles are valid. Even amidst the pandemic, you should seek help in a treatment center.

Can Addiction Run in Your Family?

Sadly, addiction runs in families. There is a genetic component to substance dependence that makes people more vulnerable. Addiction can also start in the womb. If women who struggle with drug abuse use opiates during pregnancy, they can have babies born addicted to drugs. These heroin-addicted babies require detox treatment and extended medical observation.

Among other things, heroin-addicted babies symptoms include:

    • Diarrhea
    • Seizures
    • Difficulty with feeding or weight gain
    • Tremors
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Fever
    • Vomiting

A family history of drug abuse can make recovery harder. However, with the right treatment, you can break the cycle and help yourself and your children lead a healthy, sober life.

A Glimmer of Hope

One of the states hardest hit by the heroin epidemic is Ohio. Children are especially vulnerable to the consequences of their parent’s addiction.  Around half the foster children statewide end up in the system due to parental substance use. With the influx of children into an already overwhelmed system, the city of Dayton in Montgomery County has begun searching for a way to keep families together while ensuring child welfare.

On December 6, Lisa Ling of CNN featured one of these families struggling to stay together despite addiction. During a story on the opioid crisis and babies exposed to opioids, Ms. Ling met Clancy, a mother of a heroin-addicted baby.  Because of an innovative program in Montgomery County, she would be given a chance to become a sober mother. For Clancy, who had relinquished two children due to her addiction, this chance to raise her daughter was especially precious.

When her daughter Merceades was born she was positive for opioids.  It was then that the county offered Clancy a chance for the small family to stay together. Rather than permanently separate mother and daughter, she would retain custody while seeking opioid addiction treatment. Her daughter would live with a temporary host family. This change means that babies born addicted will not automatically be separated from their mothers.  Now, the county is working with her and other mothers to stop using heroin without losing their children.

Montgomery County uses a combination of nonprofit organizations and the child welfare system to implement this program. While mothers work toward a healthy life of recovery and keep their families together, children are cared for and safe.  Rather than punishing mothers for their illness by not providing support around recovery and putting their children in the foster care Ohio system, this system seeks to find a solution that helps mothers and children.

For Clancy and Merceades, this is a chance to break the cycle of addiction that has gripped her family. She knows all too well the pain of heroin addiction on families. Her mother, brother, and sister all died from heroin overdoses. As research continues to demonstrate, there are genetic and environmental causes of addiction. Clancy’s chance to be sober and raise her daughter in a sober environment can help shape Merceades’ future.

A New Hurdle

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unforeseen complications. While parents still receive the opportunity to seek treatment and stay with their children, it is increasingly difficult for them to maintain sobriety. The destabilizing factors of the pandemic, such as social isolation and financial stress, can result in strong urges to use substances, which can sometimes lead to relapse or even overdose. To make matters worse, addiction awareness has decreased as the media has shifted its focus away from opioids onto the pandemic. It may feel more difficult to reach out for support, but help is available even in these difficult times.

No matter how many complications arise, it is possible to build a new life for yourself. It may be hard to feel hopeful in the face of a family history of addiction and the pandemic, but Montgomery’s system is proof that there is a second chance. Seeking help in a rehab center can lead you to a happy, fulfilling life with a healthy family and a fresh start.