Heroin Use Soars In Ohio Child Custody Cases

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Heroin use by the parents or caregivers is skyrocketing as a factor in Ohio child custody cases, according to first-ever state data on the effect of specific drugs on cases.

Figures run by the state human services agency show almost 7,000 instances where heroin was cited in child custody cases last year, an 83 percent increase from three years earlier.

The data also find methadone use growing slightly as a factor, while use of cocaine – still the top drug cited – is dropping slightly.

The data, the latest twist in the state's ongoing addictions epidemic, were released about a month after an annual Health Department report found record numbers of Ohioans dying of fatal heroin-related overdoses.

"These kids will have been through so much before they came to us, that they're going to need a lot of treatment themselves," state children's advocate Gayle Channing Tenenbaum told The Associated Press.

The state's analysis found 3,726 references to heroin in child-custody cases in 2010, compared with 6,827 last year, according to the numbers produced by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The hope is the data will help policy makers, administrators, caseworkers and others find the best way to serve children and families affected by drug abuse, said agency spokesman Benjamin Johnson.

The average stay in foster care is 70 days, but that number jumps to 300 days for children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol, said Tenenbaum, governmental affairs director for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

Tenenbaum is highlighting the numbers as she lobbies state lawmakers for an additional $20 million for more child custody caseworkers across Ohio.

Mariah Horn was taken from her home in Licking County in east-central Ohio at age 12 because of alcohol and drug abuse at home, including cocaine, alcohol and heroin. Her seven younger brothers and sisters were also placed in foster care. She told her story to lawmakers Tuesday.

Horn, now 20 and living in Johnstown northeast of Columbus, is studying to be a social worker because of her experiences. She says she survived by growing up quickly, by taking responsibility for her siblings when she was still at home and because of a positive foster home experience.

"I don't know where I'd be without them," she said. "Not here for sure."

Of 240 families involved in child custody cases in Licking County, drugs related to abuse or neglect are a factor for 155 families, said John Fisher, Licking County Job and Family Services director.

Addiction creates hardships for children and erects barriers for solving families' problem, he said.

"When you're dealing with drugs and alcohol it means a longer period of time that kids are out of care, out of that family unit," he said. "It's just a much harder situation to try to address, to work with."