Ohio has a problem, a debilitating, all-encompassing problem—the heroin and opioid epidemic. It seems as though stories of overdose plague our headlines every day, and for some, it can be easy to see these cases as simply statistics of an overall issue. However, in each of these headlines, a person, a family, a community has been affected. While the state has been working relentlessly to curb the amount of opioids on the streets, bring drug dealers to justice, and rehabilitate those struggling with addiction, there is another population that many forget are also affected—our children.
It is not uncommon that the adults who are addicted, who go to jail for illegal drug possession or enter rehabilitative care, have children whose lives are upended by circumstances far outside their control. It is with these children in mind that I am proud to support a new pilot program recently unveiled by Attorney General Mike DeWine. Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma) is an intervention program that seeks to provide services to children who are victims of parental drug use, including trauma counseling.
Ohio START will be focused in the southern Ohio region, an area hit hard by the opioid epidemic, to determine its effectiveness before eventually expanding the program statewide. All four counties of our district—Clinton, Highland, Pike, and Ross—are among the 14 counties included as a part of this pilot program, which will bring together multiple interested parties to work on an individual basis with families whose children have been affected by this detrimental epidemic. This includes the courts, mentors, behavioral health providers, and child welfare agencies that will be responsible for identifying children who have been specifically abused or neglected as a result of parental drug use.
Funded through a Victims of Crime Act grant from the Attorney General’s office, the counties will split approximately $3.5 million over two and a half years to carry out the program. Child welfare workers will meet weekly with families to provide support to parents and ensure their children are in a safe environment. In instances where parents are undergoing drug treatment, regular visitation and counseling meetings will be arranged. Ohio START serves two purposes. Not only does it strive to protect the innocent children made victims by addiction, but it will also educate these children and ensure they don’t go down a similar path of substance abuse. The only way we can ultimately end the opioid epidemic is to get in front of the issue and prevent future generations from abusing heroin and other drugs.
According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, half of children placed into foster care in 2015 were placed as a result of the effects of parental drug use. This figure is far too high, and it is time we recognize the influence the opioid epidemic has on people simply associated with the drug-addicted, especially our youth. These kids experience life-altering trauma due to the decisions of caregivers consumed by drugs, and they don’t deserve the neglect. I am hopeful that Ohio START will bring about positive results in our southern Ohio communities and will be expanded to help more Ohioans.
Cliff Rosenberger is the Ohio House Speaker.