COLUMBUS, Ohio — Children hurt by their parents’ addictions to painkillers and heroin will get help under a pilot program announced Wednesday targeting 14 southern Ohio counties hit hard by the state’s opiate epidemic.
The $3.6 million effort will provide intensive trauma counseling and other services to children abused or neglected due to parental drug use.
Parents of children referred to the program unveiled by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine will also receive drug treatment.
One of every two children placed in foster care in 2015 were there because of abuse and neglect associated with their parents’ drug use, according to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
The announcement comes as the deadly epidemic shows no signs of letting up and in fact may be worsening.
The Franklin County Coroner said last week that nearly a person a day is dying in central Ohio by overdosing on the painkiller fentanyl.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner said a record 60 people in that county died from opiate overdoses in February.
“The bad news is this wave is not letting up. It’s still coming,” said DeWine, a Republican. “The good news is there are a lot of people in Ohio today who are alive because fellow citizens of theirs have done amazing work.”
He cited efforts in Lucas County and elsewhere in which law enforcement officers reach out to overdose victims to encourage them to enter treatment.
Ohio has also boosted access to an anti-overdose drug and cracked down on painkiller prescribing, among many programs.
In Gallia County, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Columbus, 17 of the 18 children in county custody were placed because of their parents’ opiate abuse, said Russ Moore, director of Gallia County Children Services.
In addition, the county has five infants in custody who tested positive for opiates at birth, Moore said.
“In our community, we really are a crisis point,” Moore said. He added: “We’ve never seen anything like this before and it has been progressively getting worse.”
Children services agencies have seen increases in the number of children removed from homes and in children staying in care longer, both trends associated with parents’ opiate addiction, said Angela Sausser, executive director of the state children services association.
The program announced Wednesday is funded with $3.5 million from victims of crime funding and a $75,000 grant from the Seattle, Washington-based Casey Family Programs.
Counties targeted by the program: Athens, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Hocking, Ross and Vinton.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins