Opioid-related child abuse cases are placing strain on some of East Tennessee’s courts.
On Tuesday, Blount County deputies found Kendra Crain, 28, passed out while parked in front of an apartment building. A police report claims her 10-month and 23-month-old infants were left unattended in the backseat for hours after witnesses say she snorted opioids to the point of unconsciousness.
Administrators at the Knox County Juvenile Court say those types of child abuse cases are all too familiar, leaving judges and magistrates handling drug-related child abuse cases nearly every day.
"It places a strain on courts because of the number of cases we see each day, and it puts a strain on resources for the community and for the taxpayer," said Knox County Juvenile Court Magistrate Irene Joseph.
Joseph is one of three juvenile court magistrates for the county, all of whose dockets are filled exclusively with dependence and neglect cases -- many stemming from drug abuse. She said each magistrate has a full docket each day that often includes a trial regarding severe abuse.
"I wish I could say that's an anomaly, and that's simply not true,” she said.
It's an issue that's grown in recent years. In December, an analysis by WBIR 10News’ partners at The Tennessean found a 51 percent spike in the number of parents losing their rights to their child between 2010 and 2014, the latest year available.
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"Parents are either being transported to the emergency room or they're being transported to jail,” Joseph said. “It makes you wish there was more you can do, but you do what you can, and then you move on to the next case."
Brittany Hudson is a former drug addict whose addiction sent her in and out of jail after delivering a drug-dependent baby in 2014.
"I can feel her pain because … I've been there,” Hudson said. "When you already have that guilt and shame, your disease tells you you're not good enough and you're never going to get clean.”
But finding long-term treatment proves difficult for many East Tennessee addicts.
“These are long-standing problems, and they aren’t cured with five-day, 10-day or even 30-day in-patient treatment,” Joseph said. “There’s waiting lists for almost every agency or treatment provider.”
Joseph added Knox County does have several available treatment programs, including at the Helen Ross McNabb Center, the Renaissance Recovery Group, Cherokee Health Systems and several others, but because of the extent of the problem, she said resources are quickly exhausted.
Despite long wait lines, Hudson, who now helps addicts at Renaissance, is now clean and has custody of her kids with another on the way.
Her message for Crain or any other parent struggling to fight addiction:
"This isn't it. You don't have to give up. You can still fight. It's not impossible," she said.