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No cause to celebrate, for some West Virginia kids

As we celebrated our state’s birthday June 20, West Virginians could take some pleasure in how well we’ve handled the COVID-19 epidemic. Though it has been bad here in several respects, we have escaped the horror experienced by many of our fellow Americans.

Too bad we can’t say the same thing about the drug abuse epidemic. It is claiming far more Mountain State lives than COVID-19. If previous years are any guide, drug overdoses probably killed about 280 people in our state during the four months we have been battling the coronavirus, which has claimed fewer than 100 lives here.

But instead of fatalities, let’s talk about how completely innocent lives — children — have been affected by drug abuse. Many of their stories can be found in reports of state Supreme Court proceedings.

It’s easy to find them, by the case titles. The court protects children’s privacy by identifying them only by their initials.

When I last checked a group of initials cases some time ago, one of the high court justices told me drug-related appeals take up a substantial portion of the court’s time. Many, if not most, involve parents trying to regain custody of their children — who were taken away by the state because drug addictions made mom and dad a threat to the kids’ safety.

During the most recently reported term of the court, justices heard a case involving S.J. and L.J. In July 2018, they were locked in a camper at the home of an alleged drug dealer. They were there for two nights, without running water, being rescued.

There was the case of E.G., A.G. and B.G., whose father manufactured drugs in front of the kids. Sometimes, apparently after he sampled his own product, he went wild, stabbing the walls of his home with a knife while the children watched.

Or, there’s the case in which the Department of Health and Human Services took children “after newborn A.H. sustained non-accidental injuries including retinal hemorrhaging, brain bleeds, and bruises on her wrists while in the care of her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.”

Justices also considered a case in which I.M. “reported that, around 2016, petitioner threatened to kill her family; attempted to punch the mother; and “banged (I.M.’s) head against the door …”

Another situation involved a mother “observed injecting substances into her intravenous port at the hospital following the birth of L.H.-2.”

By now, you’ve read enough to make you sick. Unfortunately, I could continue at some length. That’s the thing. I’ve been monitoring court cases involving drug-addled parents and abused children for some time, and the number doesn’t seem to be slacking off.

After my first column on the subject, a circuit court judge contacted me with a truly stomach-turning observation. Only the cases in which parents thought they had a chance of regaining custody made it to the state Supreme Court, he noted. The worst situations — the kind he deals with all the time — never get that far.

Belated happy birthday, fellow West Virginians. How about we hold the celebration until we’ve figured out how to protect children from drug abuse.

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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