Children of addicts are the real victims of drug abuse. Of the 586,000 heroin addicts in America, surely a large number of them are parents. With heroin addicts dying from overdoses at a rate of over three per hour, surely a large number of them leave small children behind. The average age of a heroin addict in America is 23, so it’s fair to assume that the majority of heroin users who are parents have children well under 18.
Brenden Bickerstaff-Clark’s son is eight, and last week in a video that’s gone viral, Bickerstaff-Clark told him how his mother had died from a heroin overdose the previous night. After grabbing his hand and taking a deep breath, Bickerstaff-Clark looks his son in the eye and says, “Mommy died last night.” The unnamed boy is unsure how to process the information at first, but after a moment responds, saying, “What? What do you mean, my mom?” He then cries hard as Bickerstaff-Clark explains the truth: that his mother had died from a fatal heroin overdose. It’s the saddest thing online right now.
The 29-year-old father posted the video to Facebook “for any and every addict with children.” Bickerstaff-Clark himself is a recovering heroin addict with (at the time of the post) 94 days clean. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his method, the message was definitely spread. The video currently has over 34 million views.
Already an Epidemic
This happened in Youngstown, Ohio, which is in Mahoning County, which is just one of the several Ohio counties in the middle of a heroin epidemic. In fact, according to the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network (OSAM), the Youngstown area is oversaturated with heroin. A recent report stated that on a scale of 1 to 10, the overall availability of heroin in the area is a 10. Local law enforcement commented on this, saying “Heroin is still our biggest problem; we’re just so inundated with the heroin.…”
One woman from Youngstown recently begged the police to take her to jail in order for her to beat heroin. Her quote given to NBC makes it clear how badly the area is affected: “There’s no help out there anymore. There’s a three-month waiting list for any rehab around here because of the heroin epidemic. It was faster to go to jail.”
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, and the Mahoning County Coroner reported that 42.4% of the drug-related deaths processed in the last six months were due to heroin. The drug is so rampant in the area that even a 97-person drug bust in Warren, OH didn’t even make a dent in the amount of heroin around. Actually, OSAM reported that the amount of heroin in the area “has either remained the same or has slightly increased during the past six months.”
Evidence suggests there is an entire drug-smuggling operation in Youngstown. Last year, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force issued fifteen arrest warrants for suspected drug dealers in the area. Also last year, a “drug trafficking organization operating in Mahoning County” was taken down. A locally-based criminal gang called the Vic Boys is the most likely culprit. Ohio is in the middle of a heroin epidemic.
Ohio is by no means the only state with a heroin problem. The entire country faces a serious threat. The Centers for Disease Control reports “The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths.” It just happens that Ohio is where Mr. Bickerstaff-Clark lives, and is also one of the states affected the most. Still, regardless of where it happens, children of addicts are the true victims. Remember, for instance, the Ohio couple who recently passed out in their car from heroin overdoses, the woman’s young son in the back seat.
Parents die from heroin overdoses, leaving their children behind. This is a cold reality. Also, babies are born with heroin addictions due to their mothers’ abuse. Last year in Whitefield, New Hampshire, as reported by WMUR, Tanya Fleury’s granddaughter found her father (Tanya’s son) dead from an overdose. Told that her father was sick and went to heaven, the little girl said, “I’m not going to have my adventures with daddy anymore.” Often, the two would surf or play guitar.
Lieutenant Nicole Ledoux of the Manchester Police Department told WMUR that children are usually the callers-in of heroin overdoses. “Kids as young as 8 or 9 are calling us to say their parent or their guardian or caregiver is unconscious and unresponsive, and we come out, and we find out that the person is suffering from an overdose,” said Lt. Ledoux.
Earlier this month, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a seven-year-old girl spent an entire day trying to wake her parents up. The next day she went to school, and upon being dropped off afterward, she told the bus driver about how she couldn’t wake her parents up. Police later found both parents dead from heroin overdoses. Also inside the house were three other children, aged 5 years, 3 years, and 9 months. All four children are now heroin orphans. Allegheny County, where McKeesport is located, suffered 422 opioid-related deaths last year, a new record for the county.
Take a look at Huntington, West Virginia, where one in ten babies born at Cabell Huntington Hospital suffer from drug withdrawal, usually from heroin and other opiates. The national average is one in 150, still a number far too high. The drug-addicted babies shake, vomit, and scream inconsolably. The symptoms can last months. Usually the hospital has room for 12 babies, but numbers haven’t been that low in years.
One out of every four people who live in Huntington has a heroin (or other opiate) addiction. Lieutenant David McClure of the local police “has grown accustomed to drug overdoses,” and “his crew responds daily to such calls.” What exactly is he accustomed to seeing? “Moms passed out with their kids still seat-belted. Dads sprawled on floors, their toddlers within an arm’s reach of heroin.”
The story of Maycie Nielsen is hard to forget. She was four years old when her parents started doing heroin. Her sister was nine and her little brother was two. Early on, her parents would physically fight, use heroin in the open, call the cops on one another, and generally create chaos for the children. Eventually her grandmother took her in, as her mother was arrested and her father a homeless junkie. She spent her childhood wondering where her father was and with her mother in jail.
This last example truly shows how bad the heroin epidemic can be for children. In January of this year, the seven-month-old child of Wesley and Mary Ann Landers was a patient at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Upon visiting one day, the parents went into the bathroom of their child’s hospital room together, and proceeded to shoot heroin. Both of them overdosed. Mary Ann died, and Wesley was rendered unconscious when medical staff opened the locked door. Narcan saved his life.
Wesley was found with a needle in his arm, two on the bathroom sink, and a loaded gun in his pants pocket. He faces drug possession and concealed weapon charges. The child went into the hospital with two parents, and left with one. Also, that child will someday have to face the fact that his or her mother died just a few feet away.
More than the Loss of a Parent
Obviously, losing a parent is one of the toughest things any child ever has to endure. With nearly 80 people dying from heroin a day, this is happening too often. However, there are countless other ways parental drug abuse negatively affects children.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 2.2 million children in this country have at least one parent dependent on illicit drugs. According to the Children’s Bureau, “Parental substance use can affect parenting, prenatal development, and early childhood and adolescent development.” Furthermore, parental drug use can lead to a lack of proper nutrition, a lack of supervision, and a lack of nurturing, even neglect. Oftentimes, affected families experience mental illness, are victims of domestic violence, or suffer from unemployment.
The Children’s Bureau offers a wealth more of information regarding children of addicts. The following are typical outcomes for children with drug-abusing parents:
- Poor cognitive and/or social development
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Mental health issues
- Physical health issues
- Substance abuse
- High stress
- Difficulties concentrating and learning
- Difficulty controlling responses to stress
- Difficulty forming trusting relationships
In the case of Brenden Bickerstaff-Clark and his 8-year-old boy, a parent was lost at the merciless hands of heroin. That is a worst-case-scenario. As a parent, simply doing drugs already puts your child at much greater risk for the above outcomes. However, even children without parents are being affected by the heroin epidemic as well.
Heroin Affects Foster Children
Parental substance abuse is “a major reason for the growing number of children in foster care,” according to Pew Charitable Trusts. In Ohio’s Clermont County, over 50% of children placed in foster care have at least one parent addicted to heroin. When case workers investigate claims, whether they be of abuse, neglect, malnutrition, etc., “What we’re finding more and more is that the parents are addicted to opiates. And more often than not, it’s heroin,” said Timothy Dick, assistant director of child protective services in the county.
Dealing with the same issue, the state of Indiana recently had to hire 113 additional caseworkers to keep up. One-third of children in foster care in the state of Vermont have parents who abuse heroin. Last year, the number of US children in the foster care system reached an all-time high of 415,000. Nancy Young, director of the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, talked about how it’s not entirely clear just how many child welfare cases involve parental drug abuse. She said that she suspects most of the cases do. This is also “what all the caseworkers and judges are saying,” according to Young.
Maybe you think that Brenden Bickerstaff-Clark posting the video of telling his son that his mother had died was helpful. Maybe you think that he went too far. Either way, it cannot be argued that Brenden’s son is not alone. Using related statistics, it’s safe to assume that every single day at least one child loses a parent to heroin. Bickerstaff-Clark included a caption with his video, explaining his actions. Whether you agree with his method or not, it’s difficult to disagree with his words:
“THIS FOR ANY AND EVERY ADDICT WITH CHILDREN. TODAY I HAD TO TELL MY 8 YEAR OLD SON THAT HIS MOMMY DIED FROM A DRUG OVERDOSE LAST NIGHT. THIS IS THE REALIZATION AND REALITY OF OUR DISEASE. DONT LET THIS DISEASE HAVE TO MAKE SOMEONE TELL YOUR CHILD THAT YOUR DEAD BECAUSE OF DRUGS. THIS WAS ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS IVE EVER HAD TO DO. MY SON HAS NO MOTHER BECAUSE OF HEROIN… KINDA HARD TO HEAR BUT U CAN HEAR WHAT WE’RE SAYING.
PLEASE GET HELP SO OUR CHILDREN DONT HAVE TO SUFFER. THIS WASNT STAGED. THIS WAS REAL. I HAD SOMEONE RECORD THIS SO ADDICTS WITH CHILDREN CAN SEE THE SERIOUSNES OF OUR EPIDEMIC. I AM A RECOVERING ADDICT MYSELF WITH 94 DAYS CLEAN TODAY… PLEASE SHARE N MAYBE HELP SAVE A CHILDS PARENTS LIFE.”