Sunday, January 29, 2023

The “druggie mom” in my neighborhood

Betty Ford was addicted to booze and pills, and had
mental health problems. But no one took away her children.

Richard Blodgett admits he was using fentanyl illegally.  The single father told the Associated Press he had to in order to control pain enough to support his 9-year-old diabetic son, Jakob. 

“I wasn’t getting high. I wasn’t abusing them. I was using them to be able to work and provide for my son,” Blodgett said. “Unfortunately, they are illegal. I can’t get around that. But they were stronger than my meds, and they were working.” 

Arizona authorities arrested Blodgett for drug possession, and the state’s family police agency threw his son into foster care.  Just two weeks later the boy was dead.  

From the AP story: 

A medical examiner listed Jakob’s death in late December as natural with complications from diabetes, a condition he was diagnosed with as a toddler. Specifically, Type 1 diabetes, which means his body was unable to produce enough insulin to survive. 

Blodgett said he suspects the Arizona Department of Child Safety failed in its duty to protect his son, either by not monitoring his blood sugar levels or not ensuring that Jakob had enough insulin to prevent a serious, life-threatening complication known as ketoacidosis. 

“They couldn’t keep him alive for two weeks, two weeks,” the father told the Associated Press … 

The story reminded me of another parent with a similar history of addiction. 

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, long before my family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, this addict raised her children in our neighborhood. 

It happened to her as it does to so many others.  It started with prescription opioid painkillers.  She got hooked. Unlike Blodgett, this addict got hooked on booze, too.  "I liked alcohol, it made me feel warm,” she would later say. “And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain."  On top of that, this addict had serious mental health issues. 

She was what the tabloids would have called a “druggie mom” – if she were poor, and especially if she were poor and nonwhite.  

Yet during all this time, no one took away her children.  She was never even investigated.  And in 1974, when her husband suddenly got a new job and they had to move to D.C., no one from a family police agency ever knocked at the door of the family’s new address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

On the contrary: Betty Ford was hailed as a hero, and deservedly so, when she publicly disclosed her addictions and got treatment. She even established a celebrity rehab center.  Gallup polls found she was one of America’s ten most admired women every year through 1991 – the year she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  And the house where this “druggie mom” raised her kids is now a National Historic Landmark. 

Ah, defenders of this double standard might say, there was no evidence Betty Ford’s addiction impaired her ability to raise her children.  Of course it didn’t.  Because she had money.  She could get all the childrearing help she may have needed and, eventually, the best drug treatment money could buy. 

There’s no evidence Richard Blodgett’s drug use impaired his ability to raise his child, either, even without all that help.  In fact, the available evidence suggests that the biggest dangers to Jakob Blodgett were the police who arrested his father and the family police who forced the boy into foster care. 

The fact is, the world is full of Betty Fords – people who, for all sorts of reasons, use drugs without endangering their children.  And where there really is a danger, the solution is giving those other parents a small fraction of the resources Betty Ford had.  

We need to apply the Betty Ford standard to all parents with substance abuse issues. If only someone in Arizona had thought of that, Jakob Blodgett might be alive today.