Children of the Opioid Epidemic

PBS photo

Published July 14, 2018

WASHINGTON — The United States addiction epidemic has reached alarming rates and is showing no signs of slowing. To illustrate this point, synthetic opioids were responsible for over 20 thousand overdose deaths in 2016.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that Native American overdose deaths rose faster than any other group between 1999 and 2015, so this is an issue that hits home especially close to home.

Regardless of who is addicted, some may argue that it’s the children who suffer the most. Addiction is a disease that can affect virtually anyone, including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

It’s time to explore the ways that our addiction epidemic is impacting our children.

Foster care placements are skyrocketing

When parents are addicted, the children often end up in the foster care system. Unfortunately, addiction replaces everything in a person’s life – including parenting. Children may end up dirty, neglected or abused while their parents are high or in search of drugs. And sadly, sometimes children end up in foster care after their parent’s overdose.

Ohio has seen alarming increases in foster care placements recently. Opioids are the main reason why they’re seeing a 19 percent increase in kids removed from their parents’ care since 2010. In West Virginia, the number of children in foster care increased 24 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Children are overdosing

To say we are a nation in crisis is no understatement. But it’s the only logical conclusion when we’re faced with news this massive: Children’s overdose rates have doubled between 2004 and 2015.

If you think about it, it’s a natural progression. More parents are addicted, so children have greater access to drugs than ever before. Young children may overdose accidentally by curiously taking their parents’ medications. But when the kids are approaching their teenage years, they are likely aware that they’re abusing drugs. Unfortunately, emergency rooms across the nation see both types of children’s overdose.

Childhood trauma is running rampant

As the opioid epidemic is still unfolding, it’s difficult for us to get a true picture of its long-term impact. We do know, however, that children of addicts are likely to experience some form of childhood trauma.

When your parent is an addict, addiction is the most important thing in their lives. We’ve all heard the news stories telling of babies who were left unattended for extended periods so their parents could find a fix. And that’s certainly not even the most traumatic story out there.

Imagine what it’s like to watch your parent deteriorate and eventually overdose. Imagine your childhood was spent worrying about whether one of your parents would live through the night – every night. It’s not the childhood any of us imagine, and it can take a toll a person.

Studies have shown that people who experience trauma during childhood are more likely to become addicts themselves.

It’s so difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch our neighbors suffer, especially when those neighbors are young children. But most of us don’t know how to help, or if we should even get involved. It’s a difficult like to cross, but if you see a child in trouble, you should always get involved.

People tend to hesitate when they think the child may end up in foster care, and that’s understandable. But you should consider the consequences of that same child remaining in an addict’s care.

When it comes to getting involved, sooner is always better. If you see someone falling down the slippery slope of addiction, say something before it gets worse. The same goes for a child in a dangerous situation.

Of course, if you have the desire and means to become a foster parent, you could make a life-altering difference in a child’s life. Contact your local state agency to discuss the next steps.

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