The opioid crisis affects children as well as adults. Community leaders gathered in a conference room at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce to talk about those sometimes-forgotten victims during a panel Council For A Strong America organized. Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy discussed how new training is teaching officers to be more empathetic toward children, and Major General Leslie Purser talked about the opioid crisis's effect on military recruitement.
The opioid crisis affects children, as well as adults. Community leaders gathered recently in a conference room, at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, to talk about those challenges, you might call them secondary, or hidden, effects of opioid addiction. The way local businesses might have trouble finding new employees, because young addicts don’t do well in school, don’t graduate. The way a refrigerator in a child’s home might be empty, because drug addiction has made parents unfit.
The panel was called, “Caring for Young Victims of the Opioid Crisis.”
Chuck Fleischmann, a U-S Representative from Tennessee, was among the first to speak. He stood at a podium, and noted the variety of people in attendance.
FLEISCHMANN: Look around the room. We have faith leaders, military leaders, community leaders, our law enforcement leaders. Business leaders. :10
Major General Leslie Purser was one of the military leaders. She attended as a representative of federal program called Mission Readiness, which comprises more than 700 retired generals and admirals, advocating for policies and practices that improve national security.
PURSER (PANEL): Too many kids live in homes where parents are abusing drugs, and so therefore the children are caught in the same cycle. Their academic failure leads to involvement in crime, health challenges that likewise lead them to abuse drugs and alcohol, and ultimately an inability to serve our country. :19
Kids and young adults addicted to drugs and alcohol often grow up to be unhealthy adults. And that, along with other factors like rising obesity rates, and poor education, can make it difficult for the military to find eligible recruits. After the panel, Major General Purser explained more.
PURSER: Only three out of 10 kids can even qualify for service. So, if you think about, you know, you have a ball team, and it's 10 people, and only three of the kids can run, well, you know, and you need 10 kids. Well, that doesn't give you much of a choice. You don't have that selection. And right now we're looking for the best and brightest and we are um, we are competing with enterprises across the United States for the best and brightest kids to join the military. But given only three out of 10 can, you know, what do you do? :24
Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy also participated in the panel about opioid addiction affecting children. He spoke about families, how parents are supposed to be part of a support system for kids. But drugs, opioids, tear that family support apart. So local police officers are getting training in something called ACEs, A – C – E. Adverse Childhood Experiences.
RODDY (PANEL): It's helping law enforcement understand trauma as a whole, and what it does to the kids that are standing there when we show up. In some cities, in some communities across the country, this uniform, just its presence alone, sometimes is traumatic, because we're not there in the best of circumstances. :19
Roddy says trauma isn’t always a car crash or crime scene tape. It can be smaller, indirect. When police show up to arrest parents who’ve been dealing drugs, or defuse a violent situation caused by drug abuse, the child may be frightened. New police training emphasizes empathy.
RODDY: It's the way that we interact with that child during that situation that will offset and help protect them from some of the trauma that they're experiencing. They may see mom or dad being placed in custody and taken away in a police car. How can we, as law enforcement, help that child cope and understand what's going on in a professional and caring and empathetic manner? Versus just, put the parent in jail, and we believe that's the only component of our job. There is much more to what we should be doing as police officers and simply arresting a person on the charges we have. :31
A national organization, Council For A Strong America, organized this panel of community leaders at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. They’re a bipartisan nonprofit with 9-thousand members around the country.
They say in 2016, Tennessee had the third highest rate of prescribing opioids: 108 per 100 people—meaning the state had more prescriptions than actual people. And that year, more than 300-thousand Tennesseans misused opioids.
They say early childhood programs are key supports for children and families affected by the opioid crisis. They’re advocating for programs like Head Start and preschool, to promote healthy childhood development.
More information about the opioid crisis—and what Council For A Strong America recommends to fight it, is at their Web site. Strong Nation dot org.