Young Victims of the Opioid Epidemic


"Opioid overdoses have claimed more than 300,000 lives in the last 15 years, including some 33,000 in 2015 alone. But those numbers do not tell the full horror of this epidemic, which has devastated the lives of countless children whose parents have succumbed to addiction to prescription painkillers and other opiates. In one terrible case last month, a Pennsylvania couple died of apparent overdoses, and their baby perished from starvation a few days later.

More commonly, children are rescued or removed from the custody of their parents by local child welfare officials or relatives. After declining for several years, the number of children in foster carejumped 8 percent nationally, to 428,000, between fiscal years 2012 and 2015, the most recent data available. Experts say opioid abuse accounts for a lot of that increase. Officials cited parental substance abuse as a reason for removing children from families in 32.2 percent of cases in 2015, up from 28.5 percent in 2012. But these numbers very likely understate the problem, because local officials often fail to report drug and alcohol abuse and list most cases under the broad category of “parental neglect.” One group, Generations United, estimates that 2.5 million children now live with relatives or family friends rather than their parents."

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