Kentucky has made progress in how it approaches drug addiction.
Enforcement and imprisonment will not solve the growing problem of drug abuse. History has proven that. Treatment is gaining favor over throwing abusers in jail — an approach that has proved to be not only ineffective but ruinously expensive.
However, a story in Thursday's Herald-Leader makes it clear that we can't settle for small steps or isolated victories in the battle to protect Kentucky's families and children.
Reporters Bill Estep and Linda J. Johnson crunched census data to discover that the number of children being raised by adults other than their biological parents rose dramatically between 2000 and 2010.
In the most extreme case — McCracken County — there was a 283 percent jump.
However, Central Kentucky counties are not immune: Scott saw a 103 percent increase; Jessamine, 86.4 percent; Woodford, 56.7 percent; Bourbon, 55.7 percent; Clark, 50.8 percent and Fayette 35.4 percent.
Only four of Kentucky's 120 counties registered declines.
The reason for this startling increase?
"Nine times out of 10 for us, it is substance-abuse issues," said Stacie Noble, who oversees a program that assists grandparents raising their grandchildren for the Kentucky River Area Development District in southeastern Kentucky. Others agreed with her assessment.
Sometimes parents are in prison for drug-related crimes; sometimes they are unable or unwilling to care for their children because of their substance abuse.
The impact on children and their extended families is profound, complex and long-lasting.
Amy Swann, KIDS COUNT Coordinator for Kentucky Youth Advocates, looked at data for the last few years and saw a distinct increase after the recession hit. This isn't an either-or matter. Economic stress and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand.
Scientific research has long shifted from seeing drug abuse as a moral failing. Researchers now suggest it's not a problem that can be addressed primarily by the resolve of individuals so much as a disease to be managed, like diabetes. This model helps us understand the long-term commitment that treatment involves.
It's a huge commitment and a huge investment. However, the alarming numbers from the census demonstrate how critical it is to make this investment.