GALLIPOLIS — Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery gathered Monday to discuss growing concerns with an uptick in children being served by the Gallia Board of Developmental Disabilities due to what the board says is Ohio’s heroin epidemic.
“Most of you all know the drug epidemic has impacted our families and our homes,” said Gallia Board of Developmental Disabilities Community Integration Specialist Angie Williamson. “It has has affected the Gallia County Board (of DD) and those we serve as well. Many do not realize that the heroin issue has affected their offspring.”
Williamson said the board felt Ohio was literally on the front lines of the nation’s drug war.
“Many born in Gallia County are among the first casualties,” said Williamson. “They are facing a lifetime of developmental disabilities as a result of the opiates. Once a child has a developmental disability, it typically requires lifelong support and those necessary supports can increase over time.”
Williamson said 10 years ago, babies in Gallia Board of DD programs born under drug abuse numbered at zero. In 2015, the board served four such children. In 2016, the board registered 15. In 2017, they registered 25. The board anticipates serving potentially 50 such children in 2018.
“Our numbers have gone up 275 percent,” said Williamson. “We’re talking lifetime care with a developmental disability. When you think about what the opiates are doing and (it’s happening to) children, they’re infants.”
In 2016, 27 percent of babies referred to the board may be facing a lifetime issue resulting from opioid abuse. In 2016, the 15 babies served from ages birth to three showed signs of a disability due to being born addicted or from abuse as an outcome of the addiction of their caregiver. Williamson claimed other southeast Ohio counties had potentially seen a three to four percent increase in such cases, whereas Gallia’s was vastly higher.
The average cost to provide services to an individual with developmental disabilities on average was around $5,500 a year, said Williamson. For 25 individuals that adds up to around $137, 500 of taxpayer money. If those individuals lived for 70 years, the cost would amount to over $9 million.
Bonnie McFarland, of Gallipolis Rotary Club, expressed a desire to see a committee formed within the Gallia CPR group to take on the challenge of educating the public to such a problem.
“I feel like you have identified a really big problem,” said McFarland. “You listen to these drug-addicted people and you see some that don’t have a clue about what they’re doing to their children…This is a thing we need to be doing and a thrust we can be making. We could start it right here in Gallia County, getting that information out and saying ‘Do you know what you’re exposing your child to?’”
A number of CPR members volunteered for the beginning of a new committee.
“The purpose of that committee is to help and educate our community in regard to (the increasing number of babies born with developmental disabilities due to opioids) and maybe come up with some actions plans,” said Gallia CPR Chairman Thom Mollohan.
McFarland said she felt school teachers also needed to be involved as they were often the ones in contact with young women.
“While we’re teaching them in gym class or (health class) and everything, we’d better be teaching them about protection,” she said.
“I just want everyone to remember why we come here (to meet),” said Mollohan as the meeting came to a close. “It’s easy to get discouraged. But we are all here because we have hope or else we wouldn’t be here. Remember that.”
Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery meet in the French 500 Room of Holzer Medical Center every second Monday of the month at noon. For more information, visit the Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery Facebook page. Gallia CPR is coalition of faith-based, civic, law enforcement and behavioral health agencies all sharing the goal of fighting drug abuse in the region.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.