Help for Tennessee children, families affected by drug use

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GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — There’s a disturbing trend spreading across Middle Tennessee – children exposed to deadly drugs by addicted parents. News 2 has been following these cases and the efforts to do something about it.

In May, Gallatin police pulled over Ashley Beasley and Donald Stockton for altered tags, but what they found was more than three ounces of meth and their toddler in the backseat. Officers also discovered $10,000 in cash in the vehicle.

“Drugs make people do crazy things. They need more money for more drugs so they can keep the high; that does lead to the burglaries and the theft,” said Gallatin Police Officer Jessica Jackson.

In Antioch, last October, Leslie Lucas and Lindsey Vincion were charged with aggravated child abuse after Metro Police said they overdosed and were unconscious in the middle of an intersection. Their two-year-old daughter was in a car seat in the back seat of their SUV. The couple had reportedly snorted heroin and Xanax, and it took three doses of Narcan to revive them.

“We may have, quite frankly, lost an entire generation to addiction,” said TBI Special Agent Tommy Farmer. “We have to look down the road to see what we can do to stop the next, and the next, and the next generation and give them an opportunity to recover from this.”

Farmer is the director of the Dangerous Drugs Task Force. He said there’s been a push in Tennessee to protect children from the trauma of drug use around them. That includes a new state law that requires harsher penalties for adults who knowingly expose children to drugs.

“Our focus has to be on these children, so that we can stop this pattern of reoccurring problems and reoccurring abuse,” Farmer said.

In March, 44-year-old Kevin Howell was arrested for aggravated child neglect after he put heroin on a table in his Donelson home, and his 4-year-old son ingested it, rendering him unresponsive and in the hospital.

“These things are often in layers. It’s very rare for a child who has a parent, who has been arrested for any kind of drug use, doesn’t have other adverse experiences,” said Mary Linden Salter, executive director of the non-profit Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug and other Addiction Services, or TAADAS.

She said adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, contribute to a higher risk for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and alcohol abuse later in life.

Immediate intervention is the best prevention. “Have that child see someone very quickly, because the more they process an inappropriate thought, or inappropriate memory, the more than neuropathway and that memory pattern is laid in their brain,” Salter said. 

Salter said the best possible outcomes happen when everyone in the family gets the help and services they need.

“There is such a thing as intergenerational trauma as well, so you need to be cognizant of the system of care that child is in,” Salter said. “You’re not just mitigating the adverse experience for the child, but the whole system.” 

To get people the help they need quickly, Metro Police launched the Partners in Care program last month. It pairs officers with mental health clinicians in the North and Hermitage precincts. 

When responding to calls, clinicians will be able to refer people, when appropriate, to Mental Health Co-op’s 24/7 walk-in crisis treatment center instead of jail or an emergency room.

TAADAS also offers free educational material and referrals to services through the Tennessee REDLINE, which is open 24/7. The number is 1-800-889-9789. For more information you can also visit this link.

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