Representatives from CYS said the agency fields about two referral calls a week regarding substance abuse in the presence of a child.
“The issue we’re seeing most is kids that are born with suboxone/methadone,” said Jake McVay, director of Venango County’s Protective, Intake and Crisis (PIC) Unit.
McVay’s comments were included in a presentation about substance abuse and children to the overdose task force.
Amie Wood-Wessell of CYS was another presenter.
“In the state of Pennsylvania, substance abuse is not considered child abuse,” Wood-Wessell said. Venango County follows the lead of the state and babies who are born to drug-addicted mothers are not immediately removed from their mother’s care.
Pennsylvania law requires that any provider who is present at the delivery of a substance-exposed infant must report it to county agencies.
Once a report is received, the county conducts a “safety or risk assessment” to ensure that the child has “proper parental care, control and supervision.”
Drug use with children present is not considered child abuse in Pennsylvania unless the child is present at a meth lab, Wood-Wessell said.
“It has to rise to the level of endangering their welfare,” she said. The county has ‘the burden of proof” in showing that the drug use affects a person’s ability to parent, Wood-Wessell said.
Recent figures indicated that 6.7 percent of the 717 babies born last year at UPMC Northwest in Seneca were exposed to drugs in the womb. In 2012, the number of drug-addicted babies born there was half that.
A dilemma exists for county workers because suboxone is a prescribed drug, McVay said.
It can be abused though and clinics that dispense it will often take only cash.
When suboxone was introduced in 2003 it was supposed to be a three-month treatment protocol, said Shane Judy, a Franklin pharmacist and task force member. The drug was to be administered during an “acute phase” and then tapered off.
Some people use the drug for a lot longer than intended and the county has seen mothers on suboxone for five to seven years, McVay said.
Task force member Bonnie Summers expressed concern that mothers and infants were getting care and intervention.
“What I’m looking for is we have a program that’s ready to go because of these high percentages,” she said.
“We at the PIC Unit have really agonized over some of these decisions with our kids,” McVay said.
“It’s very time-consuming on our part … to basically keep these kids safe,” he said.
If suboxone is used in the correct way it can help people regain their place in society, said Marie Plumer, director of the Venango County Substance Abuse Program. However it is not monitored and it is abused, she said.
The state has been encouraging the use of other opioid dependency treatments such as Vivitrol (naltrexone) but it is “outlandishly expensive,” Plumer said.
People can call 814-432-9163 for more information about the county’s drug abuse task force. Anyone seeking help for drug addiction can call 814-432-9111.