Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KNAU's main phone line is experiencing technical difficulties. Click here to contact members of our team directly.

Children Are The Losers When Parents Struggle With Opioid Addiction


A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Vinton County, Ohio. It's a place that's been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. And in recent months, that crisis has changed. It's metastasized into a major meth problem. But no matter the drug, the effects of parents struggling with addiction have been devastating for Vinton County's children. Here's the county prosecutor, Trecia Kimes-Brown.


TRECIA KIMES-BROWN: These kids are living in these environments where, you know, they're not being fed. They're not being clothed properly. They're not being sent to school. They're being mistreated. They're in cars with people who are impaired. They have a front-row seat to all of this.

HAYDEN: This is my baseball...

MARTIN: That's your baseball hat.


MARTIN: This is Hayden. We're not disclosing his last name to protect the family's privacy. He is 4 years old and sort of shy, but he's still up for showing me his favorite stuff in his bedroom.

HAYDEN: And I never wear it.

MARTIN: You never wear it.

HAYDEN: No. And this is my (unintelligible) hat.

MARTIN: That's your Vikings hat.

We're talking to him at his home in McArthur, Ohio, which is right in the middle of Vinton County. It's a small house. There's not much furniture, but there's a brightly colored teepee in the corner of the living room loaded with Hayden's toys. After showing me around, he gets up on the couch and curls up onto his mom's lap.

HAYDEN: What's the other spider song?

BRANDE: The "Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

HAYDEN: What's the other ones?

BRANDE: (Singing) The itsy-spider.

Remember it?

MARTIN: This is his mom, Brande. She's been a foster parent to Hayden since he was just 5 months old, and she finally adopted him last year. She doesn't know much about Hayden's biological father. He wasn't even listed on the birth certificate. She does know about Hayden's mom, though.

BRANDE: The mom is about my age - 37, 38. She's a avid heroin user.

MARTIN: Which meant she was checked out a lot of the time. Brande tells me that when Hayden was a newborn, he was often left all alone with his sister, who was just a toddler herself.

BRANDE: And mom got picked up across the trailer park that they were living at, and the cops found him and his 4-year-old sister there by themselves. When they interviewed the 4-year-old, the 4-year-old knew how to make a bottle. Mom would leave, go do her thing, whatever she was doing, and the kids would take - they needed to take care of him. But they were just kids themselves.

MARTIN: Hayden's biological mom has been in and out of jail, but Brande made sure to facilitate visits with Hayden. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.

BRANDE: She was always late, but she was doing enough of her case plan that she was really close to getting him back. And she was actually about a month from getting him back, and she came to a visit under the influence. And she actually - they tried to drug test her, but she ran.

MARTIN: That was a week after Hayden's first birthday.

BRANDE: So she went MIA for a couple of months after that, and at that particular time, that's when they filed to terminate her rights. So after they terminated her rights, I emailed some of the supervisors just to say, hey, you know, he's been with me; I don't know what - exactly what to do, but if it, you know, gets to that point, I - you know, I want to adopt him.

MARTIN: So I imagine it's complicated when you've cared for a kid for years, and you know his mom is compromised, to say the least. He's not going to be completely safe with her, but at the same time, you know that that's his mom.

BRANDE: It was a struggle because, you know, for the adoption, that was the happiest day of my life, and it was the worst for hers. One of the last times I talked to her at his last visit, she was in prison, and...

MARTIN: So you brought him...


MARTIN: You brought Hayden to the prison.

BRANDE: He - she gets a last - after the rights were terminated, they get a goodbye visit. She wasn't really sure what we were doing there at first, but when she found out, it - she started crying. And, you know, I think then, finally, she realized, this is really going to happen. And I don't know. It was heartbreaking.

MARTIN: I tell Brande about the conversations that we have had with the county prosecutor, social workers and teachers in Vinton County, who've told us about the emotional and physical toll that kids can suffer when they've been exposed to drugs at a young age or even in utero. She says there's no real way to know what Hayden endured before she got him. Right now, he is meeting all his developmental milestones. The only thing that worried her happened early on.

BRANDE: When he was a little bit younger, around 2, the emotional side really wasn't there. He wasn't real loving, and I had to question myself as a parent as to, you know, what's going on here that - what am I doing wrong with this kid doesn't want hugs, doesn't want love? But I got another foster child later on, and he got super jealous, really jealous of her, didn't want her around at all. And then after she left, he just completely turned into a different kid. I mean, he's - now he's loving. You know, he loves hugs. He loves snuggles, that kind of thing. He usually - if there is going to be anything, you'll see it when they start school. So far, I think we've missed it, but we're not out of the woods yet, so...

MARTIN: Hayden will start school this fall. It'll be a special day, one that his biological mother will miss, though. Brande is hoping that can change down the road.

BRANDE: If she would ever get straight - I don't know if that will ever happen - but if so, that door is always open for me. You know, I would like to, at some point - you know, even if it's at his high school graduation, if she's there - you know, sometime, some special time in his life, I would love for her to be there. The ball's kind of in her corner as to what she does.


HAYDEN: (Unintelligible).

BRANDE: It came from mommy's work.

HAYDEN: Mom got it.

BRANDE: Mommy got it for you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.