Children of the nation’s drug crisis face long-term health effects

Posted at 10:25 PM, Dec 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-07 00:25:54-05

They are the youngest victims of the nation’s drug crisis: children of parents with substance abuse disorders. These young people are more susceptible to long-term behavioral and mental health issues.

Twelve-year-old Annie Bourassa knows this all too well. At just 3 years old, she was removed from the care of her biological mother over alleged substance abuse and neglect. For several years she was shuttled between relatives, foster homes and stays in the hospital, surviving abuse and serious injuries from a dog bite. But then Marc Bourassa and Phyllis-Ann Morrissey welcomed young Annie into their lives.

“At first, she was hitting and lashing out verbally, and yelling and screaming,” Morrissey told CBS News. The couple adopted Annie into a loving home, but the toll taken by her early childhood trauma took has been profound.

Annie is living with reactive attachment disorder, a serious condition also known as RAD, stemming from the severe neglect she suffered from before she was adopted. Children with the condition find it difficult to build healthy relationships and attachments with new caregivers even when they are showered with love.

“When you consider the trauma, and you consider what she went through, it’s not something that’s going to go away in a brief period of time,” dad Marc Bourassa said.

Annie received years of treatment at Bridgewell, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization where Dr. Jackie Devine is a psychologist. Devine told CBS News she’s seeing more and more children with RAD because of the current drug crisis.

“It often presents as extreme behavioral issues,” she said. Children require intensive therapy for trauma and long-term stability.

“The child needs to have healthy relationships and consistent relationships,” Devine said.

Annie’s parents say they constantly reassure her that they’re not going anywhere.

For Annie, that has been critical for her progress. Today, she is an outgoing sixth grader who wants to help others.

“I want to help people with physical disabilities and be there for them and help them,” she said.

And Annie’s parents say they are committed to helping her, no matter how long it takes.