Easy access to opioids and poor living conditions are leading many Kentuckians to becoming addicted and overdosing from substance abuse. In 2016, 1404 Kentuckians overdosed, a nearly 13% increase from the previous year. Our 33 county service region has been hit hard by this crisis. This is partially due to the location of our service region. Several counties are located on the borders of Ohio and West Virginia, two states that rank high in opioid related issues. This placement causes opioids to migrate into our local communities, which are often rural, isolated and not properly equipped to combat the epidemic. Two counties, Gallatin (56.19) and Campbell (52.05) rank among the top 5 in the state for overdose related deaths, and Boyd continues to struggle with high rates of substance abuse due to its close proximity to Huntington, West Virginia, which ranks as one of the hardest hit cities in America from opioids.
This public health epidemic reaches far beyond the actual substance abuse, however. Substance abuse is the leading factor of out-of-home child placement in Kentucky. Recent data shows that nearly 11,500 children are living in Kentucky’s foster care system and an additional 70,000 are living with relatives. Kentucky ranks as the worst state for both the number of children living in kinship care placements and percentage of children who have had a parent in jail.
Substance abuse causes people to lose their job, home, and stability. Low-income households depend on multiple income earners to survive. When a family member loses a job because of addiction, the non-abusing family members suffer. Without multiple incomes, low-income families can lose housing, health insurance, and access to transportation. Children are in the midst of these issues and exposed to trauma. Studies show that children living with substance abusing parents are 3 times as likely to be emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, and 4 times as likely to be emotionally or physically neglected.
Civil legal intervention helps stabilize families exposed to opioid related violence. For example, if an opioid abusing parent is suddenly incarcerated and the non-abusing spouse contacts us for help in filing for custody we can help the spouse apply for government benefits, public housing, and get protective orders if necessary. We can work with the child’s school to provide learning accommodations, and use the court system to order the abuser to attend drug counseling and rehabilitation to protect the child. A strategy that provides complete legal help will stabilize the family and give children the ability to heal from violence caused by the opioid crisis.
We are committed to tackling the issues affecting our communities’ most vulnerable citizens. Focus groups held during our recent legal needs study show that opioid abuse is on the rise in the communities we serve. Our family law attorneys estimate that 50% of their cases now involve some form of substance abuse. Helping families harmed by the opioid crisis is a priority at Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. Often, opioid related issues require legal intervention only remedied by licensed attorneys. We will use the civil justice system to promote stability for low-income and vulnerable people harmed by this crisis. Legal Aid of the Bluegrass recently received a U.S. Department of Justice grant to provide legal services to this underserved population.