Examining Opioid Epidemic’s Impact on Children and Families
While opioid addiction is broadly recognized as a national epidemic, one aspect of the crisis has received little attention: the short- and long-term effects on children and adolescents whose parents are addicted to opioids. Now, a new United Hospital Fund project—Ripple Effect: The Children and Kinship Caregivers Affected by the Opioid Epidemic—is examining and addressing the impact of parental opioid addiction on those youngsters’ mental health, development, and family responsibilities.
Ripple Effect is generously supported by a $60,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Milbank Memorial Fund is also collaborating on the project.
On October 3rd and 4th, UHF kicked off the project by bringing together some 40 national and local experts in child development, family policy, addiction treatment, child welfare, and state and local government. Their presentations, observations, and discussions are laying the foundation for the creation of a research agenda, policy options, and practice guidelines for a wide range of agencies and professionals that work with families and children affected by opioid misuse. UHF staff will also produce, by early 2019, a comprehensive report on the issue, including case studies, key recommendations for states and communities, and a blueprint for action.
The project team will draw in part on lessons learned from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which, like the opioid crisis, left too many children in foster care, caring for younger siblings, or suffering from behavioral health issues.
“About half of opioid overdose deaths occur among men and women ages 25 to 44, and it’s reasonable to assume that many are parents,” says Carol Levine, director of UHF’s Families and Health Care Project. “It’s vitally important that we understand the impact of parental opioid misuse and opioid-related deaths on children. We anticipate that our work will produce the first systematic look at this understudied but vitally important aspect of the opioid epidemic.”
The project will be jointly led by Ms. Levine and Suzanne Brundage, director of UHF’s Children’s Health Initiative, and Patricia S. Levinson Fellow. Earlier this year, Ms. Levine’s commentary “The Statistics Don’t Capture the Opioid Epidemic’s Impact on Children” appeared in the online magazine STAT.