Drugs in Haywood County

As drug problem intensifies, children become innocent victims

An estimated 10 percent of the children in foster care test positive for drugs
By Kyle Perrotti | Apr 12, 2017

Of all the victims of drug abuse, it is perhaps the children, who although completely innocent, suffer the most.

Haywood County’s Department of Social Services currently has 106 children in foster care, and 58 of those children have parents, who, during the course of their involvement with DSS, were either using illegal substances or abusing alcohol.

“Along the way, children get put second to the drug,” said Donna Lupton, social work services director

Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2017, DSS accepted 153 reports of abuse and/or neglect in the county. Of those, 72 involved substance abuse by at least one parent in the report, meaning about half of all abuse and neglect cases involve a known substance abuse problem.

To make matters worse, over 10 percent of children currently in foster care tested positive for at least one illegal substance prior to going into the program, with the majority of those children having methamphetamine in their system.

“Many of the children who come out of these homes are testing positive because of second-hand exposure,” Lupton said, adding that some of them have high levels of drugs in their systems.

Child welfare program manager Gayla Jones said that often the habitual use of drugs and alcohol by a parent is directly related to incidents of abuse. Violence is often present in homes fractured by addiction.

“A lot of times, the violence and improper care goes back to the drugs,” she said. “Domestic violence is definitely on the rise, and the majority of domestic violence cases have drugs or alcohol or both.”

Additionally, the drug abuse in the home often leads to children who come to struggle throughout their school years and well into adulthood. They often end up addicted, too. Jones noted that the first sign of a child who is subject to their parents’ substance abuse is poor performance and behavioral problems in school.

“They’ll have a lot of issues,” she said. “Developmental delays and neurological issues requiring speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy. Who knows how their potential to be successful adults is affected?”

Like many of the other agencies that deal with the fallout from drug abuse issues, the programs and services are provided by county residents, even if they don’t realize it.

“This is an issue that affects Haywood County taxpayers,” Lupton said. “We spend thousands of dollars yearly just having parents drug tested.”

Lupton has worked out of the same DSS office in Haywood County — specializing in child protection — for over 32 years. She said she has seen drastic changes in drug abuse trends.

“I can promise you 32 years ago, drugs were not a big issue,” she said, noting that alcohol was present in a lot of cases earlier on in her career. She also said meth was big about a decade ago, and even though she still sees a lot of issues with it, the most recent drugs of issue have been prescription opiates and heroin.

And she said as the drug problem worsens, her workload goes up.

“Absolutely the volume of cases has increased because of drugs,” she said.

Lupton said even though her office works hard to find safe homes for children who are put at risk by their parents’ abuse or neglect, there are likely many more who are in homes where they are exposed to the extremely damaging effects of drug and alcohol abuse, meaning there are some cases that they’ll have no way of knowing about unless they are brought to her attention.

“We only know about the ones we know about,” she said.