A Snellville mother who overdosed on heroin Tuesday in a grocery-store bathroom remained in jail Saturday, charged with child cruelty, police said.
Jessica C. Widner, 28, was found with a needle in her arm on the bathroom floor of the Kroger on Scenic Highway in Snellville, police said. Her 18-month-old son was crying nearby in a child safety seat.
It took two doses of Narcan — one from a store pharmacist and another administered by a Snellville police officer — to revive the mother.
Witnesses said the baby’s cries probably saved his mother’s life.
Kroger employees were responding to those cries when they found the woman unconscious on the bathroom floor.
Widner asked about her child when she came to.
“Take my baby to the hospital,” she appears to say in a police body-camera video.
The toddler was examined at Gwinnett Medical Center and is now in custody of the state Division of Family and Children Services.
Snellville Police Sgt. Phillip Poole, who made the arrest, said such calls are becoming common on his beat.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing similar circumstances where users use around their children,” he said. “In the past, parents were smoking marijuana in the presence of their children but heroin is definitely making a comeback.”
Poole said he’s also getting more and more calls from stores like Walmart and Home Depot, where people apparently come to sniff paint for their high.
He said Widner appears to be the most recent example of a growing heroin problem in the suburbs.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found heroin caused more overdose deaths than any other drug, and the number of heroin-related deaths in 2015 tripled that of 1999.
Remco Brommet, chaplain for the Milton police and fire departments and the former director of the now-defunct Hub Family Resource Center, worries that heroin is just the tip of the addiction iceberg.
“The real problem underneath is a suburban society that is spinning out of control,” he said. “People are becoming more and more stressed and anxious and turning to drugs to calm themselves.”
Brommet said things will likely get worse unless something is done to address what he called “perfect storm” — the breakdown of family relationships, performance pressure and overscheduling that is stressing people out.
“As long as that stays, the demand for self-medication stays,” he said.
Agreeing was Mike Reis, author of “Recovery of a Lifetime” and founder and CEO of DecisionPoint, an outpatient program for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction in Johns Creek.
“We’ve got to become more proactive, starting with educating children and their parents starting in middle school,” he said.
Not only do parents need to know what to look for, they need to start investing in their kids with their time instead of with material things, Reis said.
“They’re doing things with their kids, taking them to soccer, to the Bahamas, but what they are not doing is having relationships,” he said. “They need to stop and become intentional with their children.
“This is a much bigger problem than anyone realizes. The heroin epidemic isn’t getting any better and is in fact getting worse.”
And while having Narcan has helped stem the number of deaths, Reis believes it has also been an enabler.
“It’s critical that we have it but at the same time parents are going out and buying it and keeping it in their home like it’s a Band-Aid,” he said. “I’m hearing about young adults having Narcan parties so they can experience overdosing and then coming back.”
The problem is particularly acute in the suburbs, he said, because users tend to be educated, employed and surrounded by people who enable them.
“So the problem gets worse.”
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