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What happens to the children?

Our region has recognized the realities of the opioid epidemic, and that it spreads across the country, not just in our area. There has been a lot of discussion about overdose deaths and Naloxone. But how much discussion have you heard about the effects of the opioid epidemic on the children, adolescents, indeed, the family of the person who is caught up in the abuse of opioids?

The National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine shares that opioid-related deaths have increased over the past 20 years. But during that time, the attention given to impact on children and families has been very little. There are concerns about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) with serious consequences that include loss of a parent to opioid overdose, the family torn apart with a parent’s incarceration, accidental opioid poisoning, increased chances of a child developing a substance use disorder of their own, and increased mental health issues.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) fact sheet states that 82.5 percent of people in Ohio suffering from drug dependence or abuse go untreated. Nationwide, 8.7 million children have a parent who suffers from a substance use disorder. In Ohio, 10,769 children were placed in foster care in 2016, 17 percent of which were infants.

“Every 25 minutes in America, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal, which can mean lower birthweights, respiratory conditions, feeding difficulties, seizures and longer hospital stays,” AAP advises.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reports that nationally, there are about 400,000 births affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol and illicit drugs. The opioid epidemic, advise one report, is a crisis of disrupted parental attachment.

“Children who have parents with substance use disorders need healthy attachment bonds with their primary adult caregiver in order to grow, develop and thrive,” the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk states, which also saying that 59 percent of adults in substance use programs are parents of minor children and 27 percent have had one or more children removed by child welfare services. An estimated 70 percent of women in substance abuse treatment have children.

From birth to about age 3, a child’s secure attachment with their parents is very important to healthy brain development and sets the pattern for all relationships the child will have in their future. When a child is separated from their parent at this time it affects the development of trust, social skills, self-esteem and safety, things that may stay with them for their lifetime with negative outcomes.

Issues including relapse in treatment, parental struggle to be consistently present, both physically and emotionally, erratic mood swings, irritability and shame are among the harmful ACEs. A child needs an attentive, nurturing environment with a loving caregiver who understands what the child needs.

“OUD (opioid use disorders) treatment is effective at reducing parental opioid use and improving child outcomes,” says the National Institutes of Health report, “however, stigma and cross-system collaboration may limit access to treatment and timely reunification of families. Children are the most vulnerable witnesses of the opioid epidemic, and further research is urgently needed to expand prevention interventions.”

More than half of children placed in foster care go home to their families. Keeping families together from the start helps prevent further trauma and improves outcomes, states AAP.

FRC offers programs and services for youth and young adults including JAM (Juvenile Anger Management), EDGE, both of which are for ages 13-17 and SMART (Stop Marijuana Avoid Risk Taking) for ages 18-25. All of these programs can be self-, family-, school-referred or court ordered.

These programs include low-intensity education groups, individual, family and group counseling, a comprehensive clinical assessment, mental health and addiction counseling and urine drug screening as needed. For more information, contact FRC.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. Visit the web site at www.familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.

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