So many children with wounded parents. Adults drugged up by addiction. Today, heroin is the latest drug of choice. And Manatee County has the horrible distinction of being labeled the worst in Florida for heroin. The per capita deaths in this community from heroin, fentanyl and cocaine overdoses are the highest in the state.
Throughout Florida, law enforcement, emergency medical services, addiction treatment centers, hospitals and governments are grappling with an intractable societal issue as old as mankind. This year, the heroin casualties are higher than ever before, with a reported fatality total around 450 statewide so far. That's what state medical examiners have detected in a report to the state -- with more than 530 deaths.
As reporter Kate Irby wrote last week, Manatee County -- with a population of 351,746 in 2014 -- had between 35 and 52 deaths related to heroin and another 35 to 52 deaths related to fentanyl in one year.
"These figures are a telling sign of the huge problem here," Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube told the Herald. "We've had a number of arrests, and we're trying to do all we can from our angle."
The tragedy is not only about the dead, but the living. The victims are not just adults who inject poisons -- especially the powerful drug fentanyl, which today's drug dealers mix with heroin to produce a deadly concoction.
Children did not make that idiotic decision to consume heroin. Their caregivers did. We're generous here in calling any drug-addled adult a caregiver, much less a parent. They are most decidedly not. At least not until rehabilitation takes hold, there is a commitment to family, and they truly recover.
Today, all too many children just need a life-preserver. Even a temporary one.
Some 400 Manatee County children under the age of 5 were pulled out of their homes because of their parents' substance abuse, mostly because of heroin. The total number of children removed from their homes to date this year already exceeds the figure from all of last year.
While most children removed from parental care are placed with relatives or other known adults, Manatee County desperately needs parental risk-takers -- strong adults willing to foster children likely mentally challenged and damaged from witnessing parental substance abuse.
In calling the current situation a "shocking thing," child welfare systems advocate Laura McInyre elaborated in a Sept. 23 Herald report about the children younger than 5: "They are the most vulnerable. The ones with the least amount of voice and the ones not in child care or visible in the community." Her remarks came before the Manatee County board of commissioners.
Want to help rescue a child taken from a dysfunctional and distressing home? Call the Florida Department of Children and Families at 877-595-0384.