Early intervention key to helping children with drug-addicted parents

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GLOUCESTER, Mass. (CBS) They are the youngest victims of the nation's drug crisis -- children of parents with substance abuse disorders. And those children are more susceptible to long-term behavioral and mental health issues.

Twelve year-old Annie Bourassa has come a long way since Marc and Phyllis-Ann welcomed her into their lives. At just three years old, she was removed from the care of her biological mother over alleged substance abuse and neglect. The toll has been profound.

"At first, she was hitting and lashing out verbally, and yelling and screaming," said Phyllis-Ann, Annie's mother.

Annie is living with reactive attachment disorder, a serious condition known as RAD and stemming from the severe neglect she suffered before she was adopted. Children with the condition find it difficult to build healthy relationships and attachments with new caregivers, even when they're showered with love.

"When you consider the trauma, and you consider what she went through, it's not something that's going to go away in a brief," Marc said.

Annie received years of treatment at Bridgewell, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization where Doctor Jackie Devine is a psychologist.

"It often presents as extreme behavioral issues," Dr. Devine said. She says she's seeing more and more children with RAD because of the current drug crisis. Those children require intensive therapy for trauma and long-term stability. "The child needs to have healthy relationships and consistent relationships."

Reporter Kenneth Craig: Do you have very candid conversations with her about, 'Look. We're not going anywhere?'
Phyllis-Ann Morrissey: All the time. Yes, all the time.

For Annie, that has been critical for her progress. Today, she's an outgoing sixth grader with a big heart.

"I want to help people with physical disabilities and be there for them and help them," Annie said.

And Annie's parents say they are committed to helping her no matter how long it takes.

Experts say the best way to prevent long term consequences of RAD is for children to begin treatment right away.