WAMPSVILLE — Madison County officials are seeking to address the local impact of the national heroin and opioid epidemic through education and law enforcement, and they are also tasked with defending families from what many medical experts consider the worst drug crisis ever seen in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million Americans abuse or are dependent on prescription opioids. These addictions have led to illegal use of opioids, heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and now threaten the well-being of families in Madison County and nationwide, officials say.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Department made 26 heroin and illegal opioid arrests in 2016. They made a total of five such arrests in 2009. Statistics provided by the county’s Department of Social Services also show an increase in neglect and abuse petitions involving heroin and opiates.
Cases involving the DSS and opiates numbered 17 in 2014, 19 in 2015 and 26 in 2016. The number of adults involved in these incidents were 25 in 2014, 27 in 2015 and 36 in 2016. The number of children involved increased from 29 in 2014 to 47 in 2015 to 60 in 2016.
“These numbers have been trending upward,” Madison County Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Fitzgerald said. “We had a dip down to 14 such incidents in 2017 but the numbers for this year are increasing again.”
Studies show that children of addicts are at greater risk of physical and sexual abuse in the home, and are more likely to experience low self-esteem, guilt, anxiety, and fear of abandonment.
As these children mature they will likely develop various behavioral issues from what is modeled in the home. They are also more likely to develop mental disorders and substance abuse problems.
Fitzgerald said family members in emergency situations, or friends and neighbors who are aware of them, should call 9-1-1. Another alternative is calling 1-800-342-3720.
Fitzgerald said the county DSS will sometimes place children with relatives rather than foster care if their home loves become unsafe. “We would like to see them in a familiar setting if possible,” he said. “We will review for any criminal history, and proper living conditions.”
The DSS offers Fatherhood Connection, a 13-week series of programs that covers boyhood, fatherhood, parenting, communication skills, anger management, conflict resolution, values and behaviors, problem solving, and healthy relationships. And the county public safety building offers vivitrol therapy to help addicts recover. These programs have the goal of helping inmates find employment, and reuniting them with their families upon their release.
“We try to find the underlying problems, whether it’s low self-esteem or whatever, and address them through life skills coaching,” Fitzgerald said.
Hope abides, Fitzgerald said, despite the increase in heroin and opiate usage and its attendant effect upon families.
“We won’t ever be entirely rid of the problem, but doctors are becoming educated about the dangers of prescribing opioid-based painkillers, and families are becoming aware of what these substances do to them and their families,” he said. “The number of incidents could level off, and maybe trend downward. I never want to give up hope.”