By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Narcotics officers see the ultimate cost of illegal drugs on communities every day.
Like the story of the father-addict in Madison, a city struggling with a heroin epidemic, according to law enforcement officials.
Joel DeSpain, public information officer for the Madison Police Department, called it one of the saddest cases he’s read.
A man, drug-addicted and down on his luck, was living in his parents’ basement with his 12-year-old son.
The day before his son’s birthday, DeSpain said, instead of buying the boy a gift the addict bought a bag of heroin.
While his son played video games in the same basement, the man shot up, overdosed and died — hours before the child’s birthday.
The price of drug abuse in America is hefty.
In 2007, the cost of illicit drug use totaled $193 billion, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report titled “The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society” tracked the direct and indirect costs in three specific areas — crime, health and productivity.
Hidden within that multi-billion dollar price tag is the cost of assisting drug endangered children whose lives are damaged or ruined by their caregiver’s decisions.
“People who use, manufacture, or (traffic) drugs selfishly care more about their habit or their criminal enterprise than about the needs of the children in their care,” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement Wednesday, marking Drug Endangered Children Awareness Day.
The campaign is designed to draw attention to the warning signs of drug abuse and detail ways to help children who are at risk of physical, emotional and developmental harm due to their environment.
Nearly two dozen Wisconsin counties and several Native American tribes have Endangered Children programs, and several others are in development, according to the attorney general.
His office could not provide statistics on the number of children assisted through the programs, because no central location assembles the data.
Neither could state and local law enforcement officials speak definitively about the fiscal costs of children threatened by drugs.
But a study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that the effects of substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments at least $467.7 billion in 2005.
One substance-exposed child can cost a community more than $1.5 million during his lifetime, according to a 2004 study titled “Cost Effective Prevention, Intervention and Treatment.”
The Alliance for Drug Endangered Children lobbies for public funding to fight the problem, noting that every $1 spent on prevention saves society $10.
“Prevention breaks the intergenerational cycle of substance abuse and child abuse by increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors,” the alliance asserts on its website.
Ultimately, taxpayers pick up the tab of shattered young lives, children who are nearly three times as likely to be physically abused, more than four times more likely to be neglected, and more likely to embrace unhealthy behaviors, according to the alliance.
Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, said some of the Drug Endangered Children funds are provided through a federal grant to the DOJ. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also receives a federal grant that supports the program, “but most of the resources provided come from the local level from agencies that would already be providing services to these children and families,” Brueck said.
Lt. Brian Ackeret, commander of the Dane County Narcotics Gang Task Force, could not provide specific numbers but said children are often peripherally involved in undercover operations or drug busts.
“So we began not only focusing on the drug charges but on the neglect of these children,” he said.
And the neglect and maltreatment often starts early. Ackeret said that in his 26 years in law enforcement, he has seen drugs stowed away in baby diapers, formula and bottles.
Sometimes, the neglect can be deadly.
In late February, 17-month-old Patrick Lerch of Akron, Ohio, was found unresponsive by his mother, Heather, at the family’s home. Lerch was pronounced dead at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Medical officials said the toddler died of methamphetamine intoxication, from inhaling the caustic chemicals that go into the manufacture of meth.
“Basically, this baby was inhaling chemicals being cooked in this house” Akron Police Lt. Rick Edwards told WOIO TV in Cleveland.
The child’s mother and three others have been charged in the toddler’s death.