When a Bossier County couple was arrested on drug-related charges, most of their friends and family likely assumed that those charges centered on their own use of substances. While that may have been part of the investigation, it was actually the alleged presence of illicit substances in their children’s systems that triggered their arrests.
Police were contacted by an individual who was concerned that the couple were abusing their children. As a result, all five of the kids – aged 6 months up to 10 years old – were tested for use of drugs as a normal part of the investigation. Results came back positive for marijuana and cocaine, and both parents were arrested as a result.
People who are living with addiction frequently do not consider the impact of their own drug use on the people around them. Often, the viewpoint is that they are entitled to their own choices because it only impacts them and it’s no one else’s business, but when it comes to kids in the house, whether or not they are the children of the individual using drugs, that could not be further from the truth.
If you are concerned that a child is being exposed to drug use in the home, do not wait to take a stand and help them get to a safe place. Though every individual has the right to make their own choices, children must be protected at all costs.
Child Drug Exposure
It was not clear how the children of the Bossier County couple were exposed to these substances, but there are a number of ways that children can inadvertently ingest illicit drugs when they are being used by adults in the home. Possibilities include:
- Breastfeeding: When a mother is using drugs or alcohol, the substance crosses into the breastmilk and the child is exposed. There are kits available commercially that can test breast milk for alcohol, but there are none that test for illicit substances. Breastfeeding mothers who use these substances are exposing their infants to whatever they take.
- Drugs around the house: Children of all ages can come across a parent’s drug stash and put the substance in their mouths, not knowing what it is. Older kids who know what it is may want to try it. Whether left out or hidden “well,” no amount of illicit drugs in the house is safe for children of any age.
- “Laced” edibles: Depending on the substance of choice, drug-laced edibles may be a common method of ingestion and can be especially enticing to children. Baked goods and candies laced with narcotics may not be distinguishable from those that are found on grocery store shelves. In fact, in Colorado where marijuana is legal for recreational use and marijuana edibles are sold legally, there has been a rise in the number of children being admitted to the emergency room for ingestion of marijuana-laced edibles.
- Accidental exposure: There is also the risk that a pill will be dropped and found by a little one, that alcohol will be left in an abandoned glass for a child to find, or that powdery residue can end up on something that a child uses.
- Purposeful exposure: Someone who uses drugs regularly as a means for managing their own issues may determine that it is appropriate to use an illicit substance for the purpose of “medicating” a child.
No matter how a child comes in contact with an illicit substance, if it happens in the home and it is due to use of that substance by an adult who lives there, it is a serious situation that must be addressed immediately.
Risks of Child Drug Exposure
Child drug exposure can have serious consequences for a child's health and development. The risks associated with child drug exposure include:
- Developmental delays, including delays in speech, language, and motor skills
- Behavioral problems, such as aggression, hyperactivity, and attention deficits
- Increased risk of addiction later in life
- Physical health problems, such as respiratory issues and seizures
Prevention and Intervention
Preventing child drug exposure requires a multi-faceted approach that involves education, intervention, and support. Some strategies that can help prevent child drug exposure include:
- Educating parents and caregivers about the risks of drug use and the importance of keeping drugs out of reach of children
- Providing access to drug treatment and counseling services for parents who struggle with addiction
- Implementing drug-free policies in schools and community centers
- Providing safe and healthy environments for children to live and play in
If a child has been exposed to drugs, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Treatment may include monitoring for signs of addiction, providing supportive care, and addressing any physical or mental health issues that may arise.
Effects of Different Types of Drugs on Children's Health and Development
Different types of drugs can have varying effects on children's health and development. For example, exposure to marijuana smoke can lead to respiratory issues and cognitive impairments, while exposure to opioids can cause developmental delays and behavioral problems.
Stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine can have particularly harmful effects on children. These drugs can cause hyperactivity, aggression, and attention deficits in children who are exposed to them. Additionally, stimulant use during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight.
Prescription drug misuse or abuse is another concern when it comes to child drug exposure. Opioid painkillers, for example, can be highly addictive and pose a risk for accidental overdose if they are not stored safely out of reach of children.
It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the potential risks associated with different types of drugs so that they can take steps to prevent child drug exposure. This may include securely storing medication out of reach of children or avoiding exposing children to secondhand smoke from marijuana or other drugs.
Identifying Signs and Symptoms of Child Drug Exposure
It is important for parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of child drug exposure. Some common indicators that a child may have been exposed to drugs include:
- Changes in behavior or mood, such as increased irritability, aggression, or anxiety
- Physical symptoms, such as dilated pupils, drowsiness, or slurred speech
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Unexplained injuries or bruises
- Difficulty concentrating or staying focused
If a child exhibits any of these signs or symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. While some of these symptoms may be indicative of other health conditions or developmental issues, it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to child drug exposure.
Parents and caregivers should also be aware that children who are exposed to drugs may try to hide their symptoms or behavior changes out of fear of getting in trouble. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment where children feel comfortable talking about their experiences without fear of judgment or punishment.
Healthcare professionals can play an important role in identifying child drug exposure by conducting regular screenings and assessments during routine check-ups. By working together with parents and caregivers, healthcare providers can help prevent child drug exposure and ensure that children receive the care they need to thrive.
Legal Consequences of Child Drug Exposure
Parents or caregivers who expose children to drugs may face serious legal consequences. Depending on the circumstances, this may include charges of child endangerment, neglect, or abuse.
In some cases, parents or caregivers may also face criminal charges for drug possession or distribution. This can result in fines, probation, or even imprisonment.
It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that exposing children to drugs is not only dangerous for their health and well-being but also illegal. By taking steps to prevent child drug exposure and seeking help if needed, parents and caregivers can avoid potentially devastating legal consequences while ensuring the safety and well-being of their children.
Are You Ready to Have That Tough Conversation?
It is not easy to talk to a parent about how their drug use may be affecting their children. Many will brush off concerns, knowing that it is a serious issue and an indication that their use of substances has hit a crisis point. Some may become hostile at the idea that their actions may be putting their children in harm’s way. Unfortunately, during active addiction, it is normal to underestimate risk and to take chances that one might never take if addiction were not an issue.
If your family is struggling due to the addiction of someone in the house, you may be the only person who is able to stand up for your children and make positive – and potentially lifesaving – changes for all involved.
Child drug exposure is a serious issue that can have long-lasting effects on a child's health and development. It is important for parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to understand the risks associated with child drug exposure and take steps to prevent it from happening. By working together and providing support to those in need, we can help protect the health and well-being of our children.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/
- Partnership to End Addiction: https://drugfree.org/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: https://www.samhsa.gov/
- American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en-us/Pages/Default.aspx
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html