While those of us in law enforcement deal with the ongoing impact of illegal drugs and addiction every day, I’m especially concerned about harm caused by opioids across generations and throughout every strata of society.
According to the 2016 national survey on Drug Use and Health, 891,000 people between the ages of 12 and 27 are abusing opioids. The news is especially bad here in Ohio, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That CDC data showed more than 5,200 residents died of overdoses between June 2016 and 2017, a 39-percent increase over the year that was studied before. That’s an average of 14 deaths a day.
What most people don’t understand is the magnitude of the opioid crisis on our kids. Every 25 minutes a baby is born suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which happens when a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb, most often opioids. The symptoms — which range from tremors to seizures to uncontrollable crying — can appear within hours. Most of these babies will require specialized and costly care.
Far too many children are living in homes where drug abuse is occurring. That’s one of the many “adverse childhood experiences” (ACES) that can induce a prolonged activation of the stress-response system and impair development of children’s brains and immune systems.
ACES can negatively affect health, well-being and productivity throughout life. In fact, one study found children who experienced more than four childhood traumas were three times more likely to abuse prescription pain relievers and five times more likely to engage in injection drug use in adulthood. It’s a vicious cycle those of us in law enforcement see way too often, with parental opioid use creating adverse experiences for children, who become more apt to abuse drugs because of those experiences.
The epidemic also is tearing children away from their families. In 2016, parental drug abuse was a precipitating factor for 34 percent of children who were removed from their homes and put into foster care. That amounts to 92,000 who were affected in that year alone.
Right now, the epidemic is costing society $504 billion every year, which includes $1.5 billion in police protection, $726 million in adjudication costs, and $625 million due to property loss. Solving it will require federal, state and local governments to work together to reduce the availability of illegal drugs and give law enforcement the resources we need to address the many problems the epidemic brings to our communities.
But we also need proposals that bring healing and hope to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children as well. I know it can happen — just last month Congress reauthorized the bipartisan Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. It supports programs that enable trained nurses and mentors to help young, inexperienced moms and dads become responsible parents. I’ve witnessed these programs in person.
These programs can be a lifesaver for parents who are addicted to opioids and to their children as well. A study of one notable program, the Nurse-Family Partnership, showed that it reduced incidents of child abuse and neglect by half.
Fortunately, the House and the Senate have both introduced new opioid-related legislation. These bills include funding for prevention and education, and treatment for pregnant and postpartum women as well as babies affected by NAS. I urge lawmakers to ensure final legislation prioritizes the needs of children and families who have been impacted by this epidemic. We don’t need sound bites, we need substantive solutions.
We cannot let a generation of affected children grow up without addressing the trauma to which they’ve been exposed. We need evidence-based programs that address the short and long-term challenges of addiction and get children and adults on track for productive lives.
This column was previously published.