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As Drug Use Rose, Funds Fell

Most child deaths from abuse or neglect uncovered in a year-long Miami Herald investigation occurred in families where one or both parents had a documented history of drug or alcohol abuse.

Of the 477 deaths that occurred among children who had already been brought to the attention of the Department of Children and Families,the Heraldreported Monday, 323 cases involved parental substance abuse.  Of those, about a third involved a parent using prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

As drug-related child deaths became a more serious problem, Florida's spending on programs to address substance abuse were cut, the Herald found.  In the current year, it is $209.3 million, down from $222.7 million nine years ago, the Herald reported.

DCF made the following mistakes, the Herald's investigation showed:

  • When parents denied they had a drug problem, DCF  investigators tended to take their word for it, even when there was evidence to the contrary;
  • When parents refused to take a drug test, DCF did not try to force them to do so;
  • And when parents agreed to go to treatment but dropped out, DCF failed to follow up.

Esther Jacobo, DCF interim secretary, noted that the agency needs a court order to force a parent into drug treatment.
The drug-toll story is part of a package of articles and videos published over the weekend, "Innocents Lost."

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.