COLUMBUS, Ohio – Just a month after announcing a program to help children in families impacted by drug abuse, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced expansion of the START program to include Adams County and Brown County.

On March 22, DeWine announced creation of a pilot program which will serve families harmed by opioid abuse in more than a dozen southern Ohio counties.

This week he added Adams, Brown, Lawrence, and Scioto counties to the original 14 counties included in the program.

"The challenge we have in law enforcement is dealing with drug addiction and the offender," said Brown County Sheriff Gordon Ellis. "Drug abuse impacts everyone around in a chain effect. This program can help us deal with some of the damage drug abuse does to the children."

Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma) is an intervention program to provide specialized victim services, like intensive trauma counseling, to children who have suffered victimization due to parental drug use.

The program will also provide drug treatment for parents of children referred to the program, officials said.

"Children with a parent or parents addicted to drugs tend to stay in foster care longer, and they enter foster care having experienced significant trauma. While mom and dad are high, these kids may go days without food or supervision. They may have witnessed a parent inject drugs, overdose, or even die," said DeWine.

By creating this program, officials hope to help the counties give the children the best care possible, while also helping their parents recover from their addiction, he said.

According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, 50 percent of children placed in foster care in 2015 were placed due to abuse and neglect associated with parental drug use.

Ohio START will bring together child protective services, peer mentors, the courts, and behavioral health and treatment providers to work closely with families whose children have been abused or neglected due to parental addiction, officials said.

Originally, the program was to be primarily be funded through a $3.5 million Victims of Crime Act grant from the Ohio Attorney General's Office which will be shared among the counties over two and a half years.

DeWine has increased the funding to $4,595,250 to accommodate the additional counties, he said.

Casey Family Programs, which partnered with the Ohio Attorney General's Office to develop the Ohio START program, is providing an additional $75,000 for the pilot program.

Both grants will be administered by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, DeWine said.

"Children are the innocent, invisible victims of the opioid epidemic in Ohio. Ohio’s children services system has experienced an 11 percent increase in the number of children removed from their homes and a 19 percent increase in children staying in care longer due to how challenging it is for parents addicted to opioids to successfully recover," said Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. "This grant opportunity allows us to pilot a model that could positively improve children’s safety, well-being, and permanency with their birth families."

The partnership is a step forward in a war on opioid dependence in the region, officials said.

"This new investment with Appalachian child welfare agencies recognizes two important issues for Ohio: That the opioid crisis is breaking apart families as parents struggle with drug addiction, leading to the removal of children from the homes and placement with family or in foster care; and that the Appalachian communities and service providers lack critical resources needed to solve this crisis," said Judge Patricia FitzGerald, senior director of Casey Family Programs. "This partnership will strengthen Ohio communities and help heal families struggling with opioids and other drugs."

Ohio START is modeled on a program in Kentucky which resulted in about half as many children returning to foster care due to parental addiction. Parents involved in the Kentucky program were also found to have twice the sobriety rate, officials said.

"I'm very glad Adams, Brown, Lawrence, and Scioto counties have joined this project," said DeWine. "The goal of this program is to stabilize families harmed by parental drug use so that both kids and parents can recover and move forward with abuse-free and addiction-free lives."