December 2, 2013
(AP) — Kateena Haynes has seen how prescription drug abuse has reshaped eastern Kentucky.
The director of the Harlan County Boys and Girls Club told the Lexington Herald-Leader that two winters ago, the parents of 13 children in her after-school club died of drug overdoses in one six-week stretch. In eleven of those cases, the children saw a parent die.
Haynes tells the heartbreaking story of two little girls whose father had gotten sober and held a job for a while. But when he got a tax refund he threw a party and took a lethal dose of prescription drugs.
His 8- and 10-year-old daughters asked to call 911, but other adults in the house said no, apparently out of a fear that the father’s probation would be revoked, Haynes said.
The father struggled into bed and the 8-year-old climbed in with him, lying close as he died.
The prescription drug epidemic has affected the Boys and Girls club in other ways as well.
Haynes had to find resources for a feeding program for kids who were going hungry while their parents sold food stamps to get money for drugs.
At the club’s annual Christmas party, leaders began requiring kids to open their gifts before taking them home after they learned that parents were returning unopened toys to get refunds for drug money.
Some costs of Kentucky’s drug abuse epidemic can be quantified.
In 2010, inpatient and emergency room charges related to drug overdoses totaled $78 million, much of it paid by taxpayers, according to a University of Kentucky study.
This fiscal year, the state budgeted $35.5 million for substance-abuse treatment. Another $480 million was budgeted to run the prisons, and officials say drug abuse plays a role in why most people end up behind bars.
Will Collins is head of a state public defender’s office that represents poor people in criminal cases in three Eastern Kentucky counties.
“Ninety percent of the crimes they do are simply to maintain a habit,” he said.
Gene Clark is a family court judge for Clay, Leslie and Jackson counties. He said that in 2005 drug abuse was a direct cause in almost 75 percent of the cases in Clay County in which caregivers were accused of abusing or neglecting children, according to research by a staff member. He thinks the numbers are probably the same today.
Drug and alcohol abuse also play a role in many domestic violence cases.
“They all start with, ‘He came in high,’” Clark said of women seeking protective orders.
Gary Douglas, a substance-abuse counselor in Leslie County, said it’s common for women to prostitute themselves to get drugs.
“You’ll stop at nothing,” Douglas said.
Lexington Herald-Leader contributed to this report