7-Year-Old Girl Finds Parents: How to Help When Parents Overdose

By Tan, Zhai Yun | The Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2016 | Go to article overview

7-Year-Old Girl Finds Parents: How to Help When Parents Overdose


Tan, Zhai Yun, The Christian Science Monitor


On Monday, a 7-year-old girl in McKeesport, Penn., got herself ready in the morning as usual, went to school, and told authorities that she hadn't been able to wake her parents up for a few days.

The police visited her home, and found her parents dead of suspected drug overdoses. Left in the house were the girls' siblings, a 9-month-old girl, 3-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy, who were taken to the hospital for evaluations.

As opioid addictions have risen in the United States, children are increasingly becoming the victims of the epidemic as they witness their parents overdose or die. Often they may not understand what's happening - and like the case of the 7-year-old girl, go about their normal lives trying to figure out what's wrong.

"That's like the hardest thing because that's a 7-year-old," Courtney Lally, the girl's aunt, told WPXI News. "That's a 7-year- old that did that."

The implications are consequential: These children may face separation from their homes and families, and some research has shown that growing up in a household with drug use increases the risk that the child will utilize drugs in the future as well.

As the US wrestles with the opioid crisis, strategies to address the problem are increasingly taking into account the wellbeing of the children.

"When you see your parent overdose it's going to be a trauma," Massachusetts Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan told The Christian Science Monitor in September. "And you know that for these kids, living in a house where drug use is normalized, when they're also struggling with their own lives it's not hard to predict a teenager would self-medicate."

In March, Ms. Ryan created a program called Project C.A.R.E. in her county that provides immediate help for these children. When a first responder identifies a child is present in a drug overdose case, he/she notifies a 24/7 on-call clinical supervisor who files a report with the Department of Children and Families and contacts the child's guardian. …

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