Opioid Crisis Affecting Children
More children are being sent into foster care as a result of the abuse of heroin and opioid painkillers, The Wall Street Journal reports. Officials say opioid abuse is straining child welfare agencies.
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal
The police officer who entered Mikaya Feucht’s Ohio apartment found it littered with trash, dirty dishes and plastic milk jugs full of the opioid addict’s vomit.
He also found two toddlers, aged 3 and 2, who watched as the officer uncovered the track marks on their mother’s arms and looked in vain for any food to feed them.
That was three years ago. By the time Mikaya overdosed and died from the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil this summer, her sons were living with their grandparents. But the chaos of watching their mother descend into addiction will burden them for years. They were often hungry and dirty in her care, and spoke of being hit with a belt by her boyfriend, according to their grandparents.
At the funeral home before Mikaya, 24 years old, was cremated, her younger son, Reed, clung to her through the open casket. “And it wasn’t just a quick hug. It was heartbreaking,” says Chuck Curran, his grandfather.
Widespread abuse of powerful opioids has pushed U.S. overdose death rates to all-time highs. It has also traumatized tens of thousands of children. The number of youngsters in foster care in many states has soared, overwhelming social workers and courts. Hospitals that once saw few opioid-addicted newborns are now treating dozens a year.
The number of children in foster care in the United States rose 3.5 percent from 2013 to 2014, reaching 415,129 in September 2014. While national data do not measure how many children arrive in foster care because of their parents’ drug use, some state and local officials say opioid addiction is a likely factor in the increase.
And many of the children who remain in the care of addicted parents are growing up in mayhem. They watch their mothers and fathers overdose and die on the bathroom floor. They live without electricity, food or heat when their parents can’t pay the bills. They stop going to school, and learn to steal and forage to meet their basic needs.
“They are out there in the thousands. And they are our kids,” said H. Jane Sites, director of a mental-health treatment program for traumatized children at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She was speaking to a packed conference convened last month to address the impact of heroin addiction on children.
Social workers say the scale of the trouble exceeds anything they saw during the crack-cocaine or methamphetamine crises of previous decades. Heroin and other opioids are so addictive they can overwhelm even the strongest parental instinct to care for a child, doctors and social workers say.
The recent black-market arrival of synthetic opioids many times more potent than heroin, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, has only made the crisis worse.
Images of parents overdosing in front of their children have gone viral. Authorities in one Ohio town posted a photo of a child in the back seat of an SUV with two adults unconscious in the front, saying they wanted to raise awareness about the desperate circumstances many children face.
CASAColumbia estimated that they easily added an additional $10 billion to the economic price paid for child abuse and neglect in the U.S. The human costs were incalculable.
In Ohio, opioids are the main cause of a 19% increase in the number of kids removed from parental custody and placed with relatives or foster homes since 2010, according to an association of Ohio’s county-level children’s services agencies. In Vermont, that number grew by 40% between 2013 and 2016, largely due to opioids, according to the state’s Department for Children and Families.
In West Virginia, another state hit hard by opioid addiction, the number of children in foster care grew by 24% between 2012 and 2016, according to the state’s Department of Health & Human Resources.
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