News

Children and Youth office ramps up involvement in overdose cases

Written by John Luciew/PennLive | Jul 7, 2018 7:00 AM
State of Emergency logo body embed.JPG

Newsrooms across the commonwealth have spent years documenting the opioid crisis in their own communities. But now, in the special project State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis, we are marshalling resources to spotlight what Pennsylvanians are doing to try to reverse the soaring number of overdose deaths.

WITF is releasing more than 60 stories, videos and photos throughout July. This week, you will find stories about initial response and how addition affects families.

butler-homesjpg-e33f3f234eee9c82 (1)[1].jpg

Empty storefronts are signs of downtown Butlers's economic challenges. (Dan Gleiter/PennLive)

 

(Butler) -- In the past, drug overdoses of parents or caregivers didn't immediately register in the Children and Youth office. Sometimes, the agency would only hear of an overdose in the media or on social media.

Not anymore.

Butler's Children and Youth agency no longer trusts even the opinion of police when it comes to the children of overdose victims. They want to see for themselves - in real time.

The agency's new practice is to immediately dispatch a staffer to the scene of any overdose where children are present, regardless of the hour.

This major policy shift means sweeping staffing changes - including talk of a second shift - that has officials seeking an additional $1 million in his $13 million budget.

butler-johnsjpg-06efa2538ca24feb[1].jpg

Butler County Children and Youth Director Charlie Johns. (Dan Gleiter/PennLive)

"There were cases where we're getting a call three or four days later," Charlie Johns, director of the agency, says of parental overdoses. "By then, the immediate danger presented has been neutralized. And caseworkers can only assess what they see at the time of the visit. They can point to a police report about the overdose, but it carries less weight if they don't see it for themselves."

Now case workers respond right along with police and EMS when children are present.

"If mom or dad are passed out on the couch - that is easier to prove when we are there," Johns points out. "We need to assess the crisis in real time, as the overdose is occurring."

This is a massive commitment, as 70 percent of Butler County's Children and Youth cases now can be traced to the opioid epidemic.

Yet, it's not just the county's youngest who are most vulnerable to the secondary threats of the opioid crisis. More and more Butler County senior citizens are being robbed of their golden years, and the sinister secondary threats of the opioid crisis are increasingly to blame.

Older people remain at risk of accidentally overdosing on the very medication designed to ease their pain. Indeed, overdose deaths recorded here have touched virtually every demographic, including those 60 and up, the county coroner reported. In addition, a family member's prescriptions often serve as the first source for a young person's experimental flirtations with such substances.

This is why most counties, including Butler, are mounting aggressive pill-collection drives, attempting to gather up all these leftover pain pills and get them out of circulation before they temp a teen to experiment or supply a family member's full-blown addiction.

The numbers reflect the effects of the epidemic on Butler County, located around an hour north of Pittsburgh. In 2016, longtime coroner William F. Young III confirmed 75 opioid deaths, a huge 57 percent increase over the year before. By early September 2017, he had already seen 61 fatal overdoses. Of the current total, 40 involved lethal fentanyl, now the prolific opioid killer, by far.

That has prompted a couple of the changes mentioned earlier in this story. Still, these measures take time to have an impact, and in the meantime the deaths continue, leaving a loneliness that envelops the family of the deceased.

That's where the women who gather weekly at the Presbyterian church in Butler Township try to do their part to provide a little light.

They call their group Hope for Broken Hearts. It began as a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold and someone to hug. Everyone around the table shares the unique hell that is a loved one's heroin or opioid addiction.

They've witnessed the revolving door of recovery. They've been let down by the repeated relapses. They know all the addict's tricks. Heard all lies. Been swindled by the stealing and the sweet-talking. 

A loved one's only choice is to hang on - or let go.

Despite their broken hearts, these women choose to hold on.

"We are about hope," declares group founder, Charlene Eckert, who has two 30-something sons in active addiction.

"We have to have hope to make it through the day," she says. "Whether you're on either side of addiction, I don't see how anyone gets through without hope and without God."

 

PennLive/Patriot-News editor Paul Vigna contributed to this report.

Published in News

Tagged under , , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »