Monday, January 16, 2017

Children of the Opioid Epidemic

At a small dinner party just recently a friend told us about her brother, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist in the Midwest.  Things have gotten so out of hand there that children requiring care because substance use renders their parents incompetent aren’t being placed directly into foster care.  A clogged, sluggish system only reviews placement options once a week.  In the meantime the children are given “shelter” in psychiatric wards.  Your guess is as good as mine as to which environment is safer: at home with addicted parents incapable of properly caring for them or in a ward amidst minds awry from causes other than drugs.  To compound this lose/lose situation, the children in temporary placement occupy beds needed for children who genuinely require treatment in a psychiatric ward. 


I’ve been mulling this situation over ever since I first heard about it.  Today I saw an editorial in The New York Times - Children of the Opioid Epidemic.  You can find it here:

While going online to locate the Times editorial I came across an earlier Wall Street Journal article, “The Children of the Opioid Crisis,” written by Jeanne Whalen on December 15th.  That reporting brought me full circle back to the Midwest.  You can find that excellent reporting here:

The Journal article told, yet again, the story of police apprehending overdosed parents in Ohio parked in their car while their young boy was in the back seat.  My friend Jessica Nickel, the awe-inspiring leader of the Addiction Policy Forum, had written an essay about that boy.  For her the story was too close to home. 

Today there is one small, tragic, change of fact in Jessica’s story.  Back in October when she wrote, the statistic was 129 deaths a day due to drug overdoses. More current figures show that the number has risen to 144 a day! Worse, that number is likely to continue to rise before we see a decline.
As the addiction epidemic mounts it is clear that we not only have to act on   prevention, first responders, treatment, recovery, law enforcement and the judicial process.  We have to pay prompt and dedicated attention to the recovery of children affected by this crisis.  A compelling component of our recovery as a society is staring us in the face.  The Times reminds us, “There was a big spike in foster care cases during the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.  The government was far too slow to act then, and it is in danger of being dangerously behind the curve again.”  

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