On May 10, 18 year old Chelsea Walkingeagle appeared in a North Dakota court on a felony child abuse or neglect charge after police said she smoked pot while the three year old she was babysitting wandered into a busy highway. Walkingeagle was allowed to remain free pending trial provided that she engage in regular drug testing, among other conditions. Walkingeagle is expected to enter a plea June 17 and faces up to 5 years in prison if convicted.
Prioritizing drug use over child welfare has been in the news in other parts of the country as well. In March, the New Haven Register reported on a three year old child in Middletown, Connecticut allegedly smoking pot himself while his parents, suspected drug dealers Kristian Augeri and Thomas Way, laughed and filmed him. Both parents were charged with risk of injury to a child, among other offenses.
And for more than a year, the nation has been riveted by the real life soap opera Dsyfunction Junction, the nickname given to the Satsuma, Florida community associated with the disappearance of 5 year old Haleigh Cummings, now presumed murdered. Haleigh’s mother, her father, her teenage babysitter who later married, then divorced her father, and numerous other relatives have been in and out of jail on drug and other charges. Haleigh Cummings’father is scheduled to face drug trafficking charges in July and is reportedly negotiating a plea deal that would result in a 15 to 30 year prison sentence. Misty Croslin Cummings, the teenage babysitter who was watching Haleigh the night she was reported missing is also in jail awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges. On the night Haleigh was reported missing, Misty’s brother Tommy allegedly came into Haleigh’s home to smoke pot with Misty. He too is in jail on drug trafficking charges.
In 2008, it was Caylee Anthony who dominated the missing child news. Shortly after Caylee Anthony was reported missing, photos surfaced showing the 3 year old’s mother Casey Anthony partying as police investigated Caylee’s disappearance. Casey Anthony is now in jail on charges of murdering Caylee. In jailhouse notes, Casey Anthony has admitted that she sometimes chloroformed Caleigh to get her to sleep so that she could go out.
These and similar cases raise the alarming spectre that drug and alcohol abuse has become so prevalent in the USA that the wellbeing of the next generation may be at stake. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 8% of Americans age 12 and up were illicit drug users in 2007 and 2008 while a whopping 20% engaged in binge drinking. Illicit drug use was most prevalent in the 18 to 25 year old age group, affecting nearly 20% of the population. For the 25 and over subpopulation, the rate drops to 5.9%.
Throw in some economic adversity, however, and the rate soars. For adults 18 and over who are unemployed, illicit drug use jumps to 19.6%.
Substance abuse appears to be starting early, with a 2005 study showing that 49.4% of college students (3.8 million people) reported engaging in binge drinking, abusing controlled prescription drugs or using illicit drugs in the month preceding the survey.
Federal, state and local governments are spending tremendous amounts on substance abuse, $467.7 billion as of 2005. If treated as a budget category, the Federal government’s spending would fall near the top of the spending priorities right behind social security, defense, income security and health spending. But the massive outlays of cash spent on substance abuse is not devoted to prevention; more than 96% of that spending dealt with after-the-fact consequences of substance abuse. The good news is that the government has focused more effort on treatment in recent years, the need for which is highlighted by the flow of media reports on children endangered by parent and babysitter drug and alcohol use.
Sources: http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/Home.aspx?articleid=287&zoneid=32; The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Wasting the Best and Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities, March 2007; The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Shovelling Up II: The Impact of Substance Abuse on Federal, State and Local Budgets, May 2009; http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k8nsduh/2k8Results.cfm; http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/03/26/news/doc4bab55aeca791745074757.txt; http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/local/news-article.aspx?storyid=155990; http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/36551199; http://hubpages.com/hub/caseyanthony; http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20004606-504083.html?tag=contentMain;contentBody; http://www.crookstontimes.com/news/police_and_fire/x289808450/Arraignment-set-for-child-abuse-suspect; http://stephww.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/confirmed-misty-cummings-is-a-liar/.