Briefing: Caring for Children Effected by the Opioid Epidemic

Yesterday, the Council for a Strong America (CSA) brought together a panel of experts to discuss the effects of the opioid crisis on young children. The panelists offered a range of perspectives and discussed their efforts to ensure children are getting the help they need to develop into healthy and productive adults.

The panel, moderated by the Honorable Mary Bono (R-CA), included Lincoln New Hampshire Police Chief Ted Smith, the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia Leah Curry, and the Clinical Director of the Community Caring Collaborative in Maine Julie Redding. The panelists shared stories from their personal and professional experiences about the effect addiction has on children.

The panelists all spoke to the multi-generational effects of the opioid epidemic. While parents are the ones who abuse substances there can be devastating and long-lasting effects on their children. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as having a parent who abuses substances or being placed in foster care because of a parent’s substance misuse, can induce toxic stress in children. Between birth and age 5 children’s brains are developing more than one million neural connections every second. The body’s prolonged response to stress, in turn, can impair the critical brain development that occurs during early childhood.

Additionally, there was discussion around the misuse of substances often creating a multi-generational cycle. They noted that without intervention, children impacted by this crisis will grow to adulthood carrying with them the trauma they experienced early in life, thus putting them at greater risk for poor academic achievement, alcohol and illicit drug use, and other serious health/mental health concerns. During their remarks, the panelists emphasized that investing in early childhood services in order to break the generational cycle is a vital part of the response to this crisis. The panelists also shared some innovative solutions to treatment, including a two-generation approach that allows mothers to bring their young children with them to treatment. Since approximately 70% of women who enter Substance Use Disorder treatment have children, this ensures children do not experience additional trauma due to separation from their parents.

Yesterday’s briefing stressed the importance of recognizing and responding to the opioid epidemic’s effect on children since there are both short and long term impacts on a child’s brain development when a parent has Substance Use Disorder. Therefore, it is incredibly important to prevent exposure and treat children who have had these experiences in order for them develop into healthy and productive adults.