North Dakota’s Meth Problem Is Tearing Families Apart

By May Wilkerson 08/24/15

More children are winding up in foster care because of the state's growing meth problem.

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North Dakota’s meth problem has gotten worse as a side effect of the state’s growing oil industry, resulting in more kids ending up in foster care.

That's according to Jan Kuhn, clinical director and addiction counselor at Sacajawea Substance Abuse Counseling in Dickinson, who told the Bismarck Tribune that most of the mothers she works with have had their children taken away as a result of meth convictions. But in spite of this, many continue to use. "It's a really severe drug were you don't get over this addiction," she said.

According to the North Dakota Department of Human Services, 59 children in nine southwest counties were sent into foster care due to their parents’ substance abuse, among other contributing factors, as of this past June. Parents’ meth use accounts for about 40% of children in foster care in those counties, according to LuWanna Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.

Rick Haugen, Social Services Director for Stark County, said that 45 of the 62 children in the system were there for reasons relating to their parents’ substance abuse. Of those cases, he said 44 were drug-related, and one was for alcohol abuse.

Foster children are usually sent into custody for a year and remain in the system until their parents are able to maintain sobriety. Unfortunately, rates of continued drug use and relapse are high. "There are those cases [of parents achieving sobriety goals]," said Haugen. "We'd like to see it more."

Kuhn said most of the women who enter her clinic were court-ordered to treatment, which is required to regain custody of their children. “At least 90%” of her patients are there for meth addiction. Cases related to drug abuse have risen exponentially since the state’s oil boom, she said.

The state has developed specific treatment programs for drug addictions in response to the problem, said Kuhn, since meth is a particularly difficult addiction to overcome.

"It's a really sad drug," she said. But she has seen some success stories, and cited two mothers who are doing well in treatment, in hopes of getting their kids back. "They want their children, want their families," she said.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.