Police: Young children exposed at alarming rate

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette begins its annual review of the past year’s major news stories.)

In late July, a 32-year-old mother overdosed on heroin inside her Old Lycoming Township home while her two children, a 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, were in the house.

“The mother passed out on a couch while her daughter was next to her sleeping,” Cpl. Christopher Kriner said. The woman lives with her mother, who was home at the time and called 911. Her daughter was revived.

“The children see it. She’s using drugs in the house,” Kriner said, adding that the grandmother obtained emergency custody of the children in October after her daughter was arrested for leaving needles and other paraphernalia in areas of the house where the children could easily get to them. The daughter was placed in a treatment program.

Two months earlier, a 25-year-old mother doing errands in her Chevrolet Equinox with her 6-year-old son plowed into a building at West Edwin and Hepburn streets in the late afternoon. The two suffered minor injuries.

Blood tests revealed that the mother was driving under the influence of heroin, city police said.

“She ingested heroin” with her child in the vehicle, court documents stated. She was arrested on charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance, recklessly endangering and related offenses.

Earlier this year, members of the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit raided a suspected drug house after an informant made a “controlled buy” inside the home. There also was evidence of firearms in the property based on what the informant saw.

“When we hit the house with a search warrant, the man who sold the drugs to the informant

was sitting on a couch bagging up heroin with his 5-year-old son sitting next to him,” said Kenneth Mains, coordinator of the nine-member drug unit.

Heroin and drug paraphernalia was strewn throughout the apartment.

“The father asked police not to arrest him in front of his son, but he apparently thought it was OK to be bagging heroin in front of him,” Mains said.

The father was arrested on the spot, and the county’s Children and Youth Department responded and took temporary custody of the child until authorities could get a hold of his mother, Mains said.

Those are just three illustrations of how the drug epidemic is directly impacting children and the consequences they face when they see parents or guardians either selling, using or overdosing on heroin or other controlled substances.

“We’re definitely in the midst of a heroin epidemic that really hit Lycoming County in 2012, and we’ve been battling it ever since,” former District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt, who created the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit in 2014, said in a recent interview.

The epidemic is deadlier than ever now that “heroin is being cut with fentanyl,” Linhardt said.

What will be the lasting traumatic impact the epidemic will have on the children who have lost parents to death or long-term treatment or incarceration remains to be seen.

“It has to be horrifying for children when they see a parent overdose. A parent goes unconscious, and a child has no idea what to do. Some may know to call 911 if they have access to a telephone,” said William Solomon, an Old Lycoming Township police officer for 31 years before becoming a district judge in 2016.

“They see a parent down, and they don’t know what to do about it. They don’t know if the parent is sick or dead,” said Solomon, who retired as township police chief when he was elected judge.

“You can’t tell me it’s not going to affect them for the rest of their lives. You have children who not only lose a parent from overdoses, but you also have kids whose parents will be locked up or going through long-term rehab. You also have kids whose parents will continue to commit crimes to support their addictions,” Solomon said.

“These parents will be absent, and now you have grandparents (and other relations), foster parents, raising the kids, and I’m afraid the long-term impact may not be good,” he added.

Another dramatic drug episode involving a child occurred in late June when a 9-year-old boy was suddenly exposed to seeing police and paramedics treat his grandmother and his father after both of them overdosed on heroin. The incident happened moments after the family pulled into a convenience store on Dewey Avenue in the township.

“The boy had seen his dad doing drugs in the back seat of the truck,” township Police Chief Joseph Hope said.

While the father stayed in the truck, an adult family friend walked into the store with the boy and his grandmother. The grandmother went into a restroom, but minutes later, emergency responders rushed to the business after the grandmother had collapsed on the floor.

Minutes later, another ambulance was dispatched when the boy’s father was found unconscious in the truck. Both were rushed to a hospital while the boy and the family friend were taken to the police station to be questioned, Hope said.

“The boy told us he has seen ‘daddy snorting stuff from blue bags at home. Mommy used to do it with him, but now that she’s pregnant, she doesn’t do it anymore,'” Kriner said.

“So that told us there already was a history of the boy being exposed to drug use involving his parents at home. This just wasn’t something that happened that day at the store,” Kriner added.

The boy’s grandmother and father, both from Blossburg, recovered and were charged with drug offenses.

Hope is very concerned about how the drug habits of parents will play out in their children’s lives in the future.

“What kids see, they often end up learning and doing in the future. Any kind of behavior they watch, they absorb, they learn,” Hope said.

“I’m thinking that if the kids watch this enough, there’s a good chance they’re going to turn out the same as their parents,” he added.

Kriner was a bit more optimistic and said that research shows that sometimes after drug use peaks in one generation, “the pendulum swings” the other way.

“There is hope that after kids see what drugs did to mom or dad, they decide, ‘Hey, this really messed up their life, and my life when I was a child. I don’t want to go down the same path (as an adult),’ “ Kriner said.

“It could skip a generation because this generation (of children) sees the negative impact drugs have on the family. ‘Mom or dad are always high. Mom or dad are always in jail,’ “ he added.