How the Opioid Epidemic Harms Youth and Families

The second most common cause for entry into foster care system nationwide, parental substance use disorder consistently jeopardizes child health and safety. An uptick in the use of opioids and other substances has led to a rise in the number of children being removed from their homes due to parental substance abuse.  A new resource from Child Trends collects national data and information about how the opioid epidemic is affecting children and families and the different ways that states are responding to the crisis.

About 32 percent of children entered foster care in 2015 at least partially because of parental drug abuse, a 10 percent rise from 2005, according to Child Trends’ analysis of 2015 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data. Though federal child welfare data does not specify the type of drugs being abused, many officials have linked this surge with the opioid epidemic.

In 2015, more than 2.5 million Americans were dependent on opioids, leading to a host of health risks to children. In the last National Survey on Drug Use and Health, from 2007 to 2012, around 21,000 pregnant women admitted to abusing opioids. If exposed to opioids while in the womb, infants risk experiencing drug withdrawal or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which can consist of extreme crying, tremors, seizures and other related issues with sleep. Parental opioid misuse can also lead to unstable living environments where children are more likely to experience physical abuse and trauma and may even turn to substances themselves as a way to cope.

The brief estimates that more than 2 million children are living with guardians who are dealing with a substance use disorder. States have begun to address the effects of opioid abuse on families and child safety in many different ways. Vermont, Massachusetts and Ohio have launched initiatives geared toward increasing data collection, directly addressing substance abuse and supporting healthy families. These approaches include family drug courts and family-focused residential treatment centers, which are intervention programs aimed at helping families stay together or be reunified sooner.

To read the full brief, click here.

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Stephanie Pham
About Stephanie Pham 16 Articles
Stephanie is a summer fellow for The Chronicle of Social Change and Fostering Media Connections as part of Stanford University's Haas Center for Public Service fellowship program.

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