What Price Does the Children of Opioid Addicts Pay?

The recent opioid epidemic has left many harmed and not only the abusers. Over the last few years there has been a large number of overdoses due to opioid abuse. It has left many in their wake, including the abusers, their family, friends and sometimes innocent bystanders due to violence and crime. When many see a report on the news or an article written in the newspaper that a person or a number of people overdosed due to opioids, they only see that one individual and not their children, or family. Recently people have been asking some questions that others wouldn’t, what happens to the children of the opioid crisis?

Lately there has been a lot of news and eyes on the significant rise of opioid abuse that is affecting the country. Often times the information or news on the wave is fixated on the effects that it has on adults and the thousands who have passed away due to opioid overdoses. The people left out of the spotlight are the children that have been left behind due to the recent opioid epidemic. When the parents pass due to an opioid overdose it leaves many children in danger or it could even force them into the foster care system.

The abuse of pharmaceutical painkillers, heroin, the newest and most potent, Fentanyl and other opioids are wrecking the homes of many all around the United States of America. Since the homes are getting destroyed by these opioids, due to the caregiver’s addiction, it is leaving many children placed in the foster care system. In fact, foster care cases are at an all time high (highest in three decades since record keeping came around), when it comes to the involvement of the parents using drugs.

The numbers are actually quite startling, in 2016, there were 92 thousand children entering the foster care system due to caregiver’s drug use, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. When digging deeper into the numbers, one would realize that nearly one third of all children who have entered the foster care system in 2016 did so due to their guardian’s drug use. Since 2012, the United States has seen a thirty-two percent increase in drug related foster care cases.

Now one can imagine that drugs have constantly been a large catalyst, forcing children into the foster care system, but officials have not perceived a rise of this scale in nearly 40 years. Yes, that is right, the United States government has not seen such a rise in such cases since the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980’s. More telling is that the opioid crisis that is going on today is the country’s largest and most fatal flow of drug use in the history of the United States.

With all of this knowledge and intel coming to the forefront, some officials are leading one to believe that the opioid crisis can also lead to the most impactful epidemic the United States foster care system has ever seen. Though officials are aware of the effect that the opioid crisis can have on the foster care system, the effect has still not been as large as the effect it has had on law enforcement and the health system. Unfortunately, since the foster care system is tied to the court system, data on the matter has been delayed.

In a somewhat expected affect the rise in foster children, caused by parental drug use has reversed a positive trend for the system.  In the previous decade prior to 2012, there were actually less new foster care cases due to parental drug use. That all changed however when the opioid crisis truly took hold.

Due to the rise of cases it has left the local and state representatives with little resources to help cope with the rising numbers, a truly trying time for the system. The new strain on the system has left the individuals running the foster care system recruiting new foster parents, trying to get current foster parents to take even more children. In some areas they have even been forced to raise the maximum capacity at emergency shelters, group homes and other state run institutions. Luckily, for those in need of foster care, there has also been an increase of staff at many child welfare agencies. In addition, there has been a rise in the staff in the juvenile courts, to help speed up the process. In the eyes of the officials it has left them with no other options then to rethink the way to curb the rise, and this has left some increasing the ease of access to substance abuse treatments and looking at the way the courts react to these types of cases.

Although the affect on the opioid crisis has on children is terrible, opioid addiction is killing an outstanding number of Americans every year. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessed that nearly 15,000 individuals died of prescription opioid overdoes in 2015. In addition to the prescription deaths there were another 13,000 deaths attributed to heroin overdoes and nearly another 10,000 died of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

When you break down the numbers it is truly alarming to see the number of people this crisis has affected, before you factor the toll it takes on the family and friends of the loved ones who died from overdoses. Using one’s deductive skills, one can imagine the number of children who have been orphaned due to those deaths. For the lucky survivors of these overdoses, they face trials and custody battles for their children. Many of the parents lose out and it forces the children into foster care, where federal law puts a strict timeline on how long parents must get clean and regain custody of their children. Due to some parent’s ability to get and stay clean they are losing their parental rights, others succumb to the addiction and voluntarily give up their rights as a parent. In those cases, many children are left with relatives or with a foster parent.

According to the data provided by the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, stated data showed that there have been children of many different ages have been affected by the recent opioid epidemic, but there is now a trend where children affected are three years younger than your typical child in the foster care system. Unfortunately, due to the opioid crisis, younger and younger children are being affected. There have been pregnant abusers causing their children to be born with opioid abuse symptoms.

The effect on babies

Those babies are immediately thrusted into the foster care system, truly bringing the average age of children into the system down. This all stems from their parent’s rampant drug use, with the new wave pointing directly to the opioid crisis. The data also shows that nearly 75% of all the children thrusted into the foster care system due to parental drug abuse are white. Furthermore, data shows that that more and more grandparents are getting involved with the parenting due to the child’s biological parents losing custody, because they cannot get or stay clean.  Obviously, it is also a good thing that the foster care system and child welfare officials, due to the systemic logjam due to these kind of cases, are doing their best to keep children with some sort of family, instead of having them go through the foster care system.

As previously stated, there are babies being born at an alarming rate to mothers who are opioid abusers. This trend is not only causing the average age of a child in the foster care system to go down, but they are also born with opioid withdrawal symptoms also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. This causes the baby to have similar withdrawal symptoms as a regular opioid abuser weaning themselves off of drugs. The symptoms that these babies are born with can range from: tremors (trembling), irritability or excessive crying, sleeping issues, muscle tightness, and even seizures. Those are just some of the worst symptoms that a newborn who is born from a mother who has an opioid addiction and used opioids while pregnant.

Another sad development that these unfortunate babies must face is that many of them are born premature or malnourished.  This on top of their neonatal abstinence syndrome they also have to overcome the odds of being born premature. Furthermore, data has also shown that their mothers illicit drug use has made them be more susceptible to the HIV virus and even hepatitis. Hospitals are reacting and in an effective way. Hospitals are now testing these newborns for drug exposure and notifying the authorities if the babies come back positive. Many of the times when a baby does unfortunately come back positive for drug exposure, the babies end up being taken away and end up in the hands of the foster care system.  This is also adding to the growing numbers of children in the foster care system, but it is with good reason.

Long-term Effects Related to Prenatal Drug Exposure

With the rise of opioid users there is now, regrettably, a rise in babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has also occurred. Now that there have been a few years of data on babies born with drug exposure, we can now see not only the short-term effects on the baby, but also the long-term effects it has on the child as it grows. Although there is not a clear-cut consensus on an opiate exposed baby, but there is some evidence that it has shown to stunt the child’s growth, similar to the effects a child goes through having been exposed to cocaine.

There is more evidence however that a newborn who was exposed to opiates while their mother was pregnant, show to have differing behaviors than those born with out opiate exposure. In fact, it has been shown that hyperactivity and short attention spans have been noted in children who where exposed to opioids while their mother was pregnant with them. The trend continues as the child grows with data showing that older children who where exposed to opioids prenatally, have problems with memory and emotional problems or problems with their perception.

There is not enough data available right now to draw conclusions on whether or not prenatal opioid exposure will have an effect on the child’s own illicit drug use or alcohol addiction later in life, but, there have also been studies shown that there is an addiction trait passed down. Overall this does not leave the children in favorable situations, that can hamper their own future decision making and could even cause them to have a drug or alcohol problem of their own.

Conclusion

In closing the effects of the opioid epidemic that is currently going on today in the United States, being caused by prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic opiates, has a large effect on not only the addicts but also the children of said addicts. There are alarming trends of babies with being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and those babies being placed in the foster care system. Another trend is that there are more drug related cases in the foster care system since they started collecting data for these cases. With babies entering the system, due to their parent’s opioid abuse, the average age of the those in foster care is at its lowest in over thirty years, since the crack cocaine epidemic in the 80’s.

Overall as a nation the opioid crisis is taking its toll on adults, children, and the family members that must deal with the carnage that these opioids are leaving behind. More and more data are showing the alarming trends, causing law enforcement, courts and health systems to adjust. If you or someone you know has an illicit drug abuse problem, please seek the help you need. The Recovery Team is here to help.PreviousNext