JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The number of cases of children ingesting drugs is skyrocketing. However, the biggest scare: most kids are being exposed in their own home. A Jacksonville woman said she desperately tried to get her grandchildren out of harm’s way, but no agency would help.
“We knew the day was coming,” Susan Reid said. “It was really bad when we got the phone call that our youngest grandbaby literally almost died from fentanyl, and our fear had come true.”
Reid’s son and his girlfriend have three children: a nine-month-old, a one-year-old and a six-year-old. Reid told Action News Jax, Meghan Moriarty, she knew there were drugs in the home, because she had a key.
Reid said she first called the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office about the drugs. It referred her to the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
“Nobody would do anything,” Reid said. “I called the hotline numbers and got no response.”
She felt like she wasn’t being heard, so Reid hired a private investigator.
Action News Jax interviewed Kathleen Conran last year about the case.
Related Story: JSO Overdose Unit tackles fentanyl deaths in Jacksonville
“She was deathly afraid that these kids were going to get killed,” Conran said.
Conran said she believed DCF had enough evidence to take the kids out of the home, but nothing happened.
“I called DCF,” Conran said. “Nobody ever even called me back.”
A month later, Reid’s nine-month-old grandchild overdosed on fentanyl. The baby was observed “…not to be breathing and her lips began turning blue.” Once at the hospital, the baby “…was given multiple doses of Narcan… A urine test revealed the presence of Fentanyl.” This is according to a police report from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
A separate arrest report shows DCF stepped in after the child’s overdose. The agency tested both parents. Both tested “positive” for multiple drugs, including fentanyl. The Sheriff’s Office arrested both parents. The father served one year for child neglect, and the mother is serving a 10-year sentence on multiple drug-related charges.
“We got here because we have different agencies that ignored the cries, the help, the pleas for help,” Reid said.
We looked into the rise in child deaths due to drugs. The Journal of American Medical Association for Pediatrics found in 1999 about 5% of opioid deaths in children were due to fentanyl. In 2021, the drug was responsible for 94% of those deaths. The study found the majority of fentanyl poisoning in children happened in the child’s own home.
“You know everybody is being touched by the epidemic,” Mike McCormick said. He works with the Florida Poison Information Center in Jacksonville. “While we all like to think it’s not going to impact us, I spend too much time talking to families across all demographics in different parts of towns and cities and counties, and opioids don’t discriminate.”
We requested the number of overdose calls for pediatric patients from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. It’s important to note, these numbers may actually be higher as these are just the initial calls into emergency services.
Last year, JFRD received 241 calls for children under 19 who were either poisoned, ingested something or overdosed. Forty-five of those calls were for children under four. This year is on course for the same. As of October, there have been 203 calls. Thirty-five of those were for kids under four.
“It’s been a long road.” Reid said. “It has.”
Reid officially adopted her three grandchildren in October Her work isn’t done yet.
“There’s things that can be done, and no one is doing anything,” Reid said.
Moriarty reached out to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) asking if it had a comment on the case. Additionally, she asked what actions the department took prior to the overdose, and she asked about the protocols for removing a child from the home. A spokesperson did not comment directly on the case and did not give information about any intervention.
Instead, we received this statement from DCF:
“The Department conducts investigations concerning all allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Information regarding investigations is confidential per section 39.202, Florida Statutes. Anyone should contact the Florida Abuse Hotline (Hotline) when they know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child or a vulnerable adult has been abused, abandoned, neglected, or exploited. When allegations of substance misuse are received, the Department has the ability to engage law enforcement if there are concerns for criminal activity or serious safety concerns. If, during the course of an investigation, drugs are observed or behaviors of the caregivers result in immediate safety concerns, law enforcement is notified, and the CPI proceeds through investigative activities. If no drugs are observed, the CPI will interview the subjects, observe their behaviors, request drug tests from the adults, and talk to collateral contacts (neighbors, relatives, law enforcement, etc.) to ultimately make the determination if the child can remain safely at home with their parents. If it is determined the child cannot remain safely. If anyone has concerns or suspicions that a child is being exposed to substance use resulted in abuse, neglect, or abandonment, a report should be made to the Florida Abuse Hotline.”
Ways to make a report:
1. By Telephone: 800-96-ABUSE / 800-962-2873
2. By Fax: 800-914-0004
3. By Florida Relay: 7-1-1
4. By TTY: 800-955-8771
5. By Web Reporting: https://reportabuse.myflfamilies.com/s/
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]