SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The country’s opioid crisis is breaking apart Utah families. ABC4 News received an intimate look at the problem during a special report.
Hali Hart spoke with ABC4’s Brittany Johnson about her struggle with addiction. The end result was that her three biological children were taken away and placed into foster care.
“I was their mom. They were mine. They were apart of me. It was like they took a piece of me away — three pieces. Very big pieces,” Hart said, trying to hold back tears.
Hart said she turned to drugs to numb the pain she received in an abusive relationship. While Hart was on drugs, her life spiraled down until she hit rock bottom.
“My intentions were never to use drugs. I never wanted to use drugs,” she said.
Hart experimented with marijuana and powerful painkillers, which eventually lead to her using heroin.
All three drugs took a hold of her life.
“You can’t just walk away from it. You get sick. It kind of holds onto you,” Hart explained.
The drug use landed Hart behind bars.
“I felt empty. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know what to do. Everything about who I was was gone,” Hart said, while tears ran down her cheeks.
Addiction is tearing apart families all across the state.
In 2013, 65 percent of children were placed into the Utah Foster Care system because of drug or alcohol addiction. Today, in 2018, that number is 70 percent.
The numbers have overwhelmed the system.
“We can’t anticipate what is going to happen, so we can’t anticipate when we’re going to have this surge of kids come into care,” said Liz Rivera, Utah Foster Care.
According to Utah Foster Care officials, the Salt Lake Area has seen an increase of children five and younger coming into the system due to opioid use.
“Addiction is a big thing,” River explained. “If you have a parent who is addicted and that’s what’s brought their child into care, the treatment plan for addiction is not quick.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of addicts undergoing treatment relapse.
That’s what happened to Hart and as a result, her three children were placed permanently with another family.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Hart said. “I just want to see them. I don’t even know what they look like. I just want to know that they’re OK.”
Hart’s story is one of the worst possible outcomes.
While Utah Department of Child and Family Services cannot comment on individual cases, they say reunification between children and their biological families is always their main goal, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.
Under federal guidelines, a parent battling addiction has 12 months to recover and seek treatment in order to regain custody of their kids. In some circumstances, a judge can extend a case and DCFS or the parent can request an extension for up to 18 months.
“By the time you hit about 18 months, these children, they’re living in very temporary situations often, and they need permanency, they need stability,” Moore said. “We have an obligation at 18 months to find an alternative permanent situation.”
When a child is adopted, there’s a chance the biological parents won’t see their children again.
“I think it would be healthy for my kids to see me, for them to know me, for them to know that I love them and I didn’t want them taken. I want them. I want them to know that. I think that’s fair to them. They don’t deserve to not know,” Hart said emotionally.
It’s been about seven years since Hart has seen her three children that were taken away. Although her pain hasn’t dulled, her world is different now. Hart has since had two more kids and is committed to living a life of sobriety.
“I could not bare losing these two. No way. No matter what I feel, I will do whatever it takes to always do the next right thing,” she said.
If you or someone you know is battling a drug addiction, call the National Drug Helpline 1-888-633-3239, or click here.
*Special thanks to the Odyssey House for their help on this story.