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Address addiction by giving families hope

By KATHY MILES
Guest columnist

“What about us?” This is a question that continues to be asked by families of loved ones who have substance use disorders. The unspoken needs behind the question are real and far-reaching. People don’t have addictions without others being affected. But, then, we can say that about other diseases as well. We’ve actually known for a long time that addiction is a family disease — we just have an overwhelming number of examples at this time.

In light of the current opioid crisis, we have compelling reasons to think about family needs. We know that we now have more children in foster care than ever before in Kentucky. We also have more children living in other living arrangements — often with grandparents — than ever before. The number of children living away from their biological parents because of parental substance use disorders and/or incarceration is staggering. Opioid overdose deaths were at their highest ever in 2017 (the latest official statistics we have to date). All of those deaths represent a multitude of suffering family members.

A national report published in March by the United Hospital Fund describes America’s family needs resulting from substance use disorders as “urgent.” Dr. Suzanne Brundage and Dr. Carol Levine chronicle findings from an October 2018 national conference in the report, “The Ripple Effect: The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Families.”

Brundage and Levine call for a variety of national, state, and local responses, which include integrating children and youth into their parents’ treatment and recovery support. They also recommend more assistance and support for grandparents and other older family members, who are experiencing their own physical and mental health problems as they raise the next generation.

Treatment outcomes are best when family members are included in treatment. While in treatment, families can often begin the long process of healing broken relationships, which can be a building block for long-term recovery. That can also be said for successful outcomes in re-entry after incarceration. Appropriate family support can make all the difference in success or return to substance use and criminal behavior.

In response to the, “What about us?” question, our local community has fairly recently developed many support programs for families. We have had active Al-Anon meetings for many years. We now also have several Celebrate Recovery groups meeting throughout the area. They are attended by family members and folks with addictions, as well as others seeking support for their life challenges. For almost a year, we have had a Parents of Addicted Loved Ones group, which meets weekly. A “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” group meets during the school year in Danville. Hope Network continues to recruit and train mentors for at-risk children in our schools. And CASA of the Bluegrass provides advocates for children in the social services system. Our schools, of course, provide many services to all of our community’s children and youth.

There is much more to be done locally to support families struggling with addiction. Quality early childhood education for all is a critical need. Kudos to our Early Childhood Alliance working on this need, but all of us should commit to this becoming a reality.

We continue to need more mentors for children and youth. We’d like to have an Al-Ateen group in Boyle County. More treatment programs that provide support and counseling to the children of parents with substance use disorders are needed. New jail programming should include linkages to family support services for those currently incarcerated and for those leaving jail. And, in our language and behaviors, we can all do our part to lower the stigma that surrounds the misunderstanding of addiction.

Thankfully, we have a local opportunity this month to step up and support the families of those struggling with addiction. The Danville Church of God, in conjunction with Hope Network, is sponsoring a weekend series of workshops, a concert by a Grammy Award winner, community worship, and a 5K race to support local work fighting addiction. Hope 2019 will be held April 26 through April 28. Information, support and compassion will be offered to family members of all ages. More information about the events scheduled for the last weekend in April can be found on the Hope Network website at www.hopeky.org.

Hope 2019 will be a chance to counter despair with hope, and to change the “ripple effect” of addiction in families. We have an opportunity to make a new ripple of responding to, “What about us?” with, “We’re all in this together.”

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.