UHF Commentary Highlights Pivotal Opportunity to Help Children and Families Affected by Worsening Opioid Crisis

UHF Senior Fellows Carol Levine, Lee Partridge Detail How Children Are Being Harmed by Intersection of COVID-19 and Opioid Crisis, Recommend Actions to Help  

NEW YORK, NY—September 29, 2021—A promising downtrend in opioid-related deaths that started in 2017 was upended during the pandemic, and it is now likely that some 5.3 million children in the United States will be adversely affect by the opioid epidemic by 2030, with the lifetime costs of helping them reaching $400 billion, according to a commentary published today by United Hospital Fund.

The commentary, A Critical Opportunity to Support Children and Families Affected by the Opioid Crisis, details the myriad ways that children suffer from having a parent or family member addicted to opioids, and how a new Opioid Settlement Fund established in New York State can help. It was written by two UHF senior fellows: Carol Levine, formerly director of UHF’s Families and Health Care Project, and Lee Partridge, formerly Medicaid Director for the District of Columbia.

CDC data shows that drug overdose deaths across the U.S. rose by close to 30 percent between 2019 and 2020, from 72,000 deaths in 2019 to 93,000 last year. All demographic groups experienced increases, although one study showed that opioid overdose death rates grew faster among Black Americans than white Americans in several states, including New York.

Experts attribute the sharp increase to the steady growth of fentanyl use and to the COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered increased levels of stress, social isolation, and homelessness. For many of those in recovery programs in 2020, the pandemic also meant a loss of access to treatment, the authors write. 

However, the authors note that there is a new opportunity to address the crisis. This summer New York State enacted legislation establishing an Opioid Settlement Fund to distribute the proceeds of recent settlements with Johnson & Johnson and other companies, as well as future opioid settlements. The legislation also established an advisory board to recommend to the legislature how the money should be distributed.

The authors write that the board’s membership must include individuals experienced in working with families and running family-centered programs. They also call for a coordinated response to the needs of children and families across health care, law enforcement, child welfare agencies, schools, and community-based programs.

“Opportunity, it is said, knocks only once. This knock is loud and clear; let the kids open the door,” they write.

The authors base their recommendations on their work on earlier UHF reports related to the opioid crisis. In March 2019, UHF published The Ripple Effect: The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Families, co-authored by Ms. Levine, a comprehensive look at the groups most affected by opioid use; in November 2019, UHF followed up with a chartbook, created in partnership with Boston Consulting Group and co-authored by Ms. Partridge, that quantified the number of children affected by the opioid epidemic in every state. 

The commentary can be found on UHF’s website here. It is the latest in a series of commentaries published by UHF since the start of the pandemic that are related to COVID-19, all of which can be found here.

About United Hospital Fund
United Hospital Fund works to build an effective and equitable health care system for every New Yorker. An independent, nonprofit organization, we are a force for improvement, analyzing public policy to inform decision-makers, finding common ground among diverse stakeholders, and developing and supporting innovative programs that improve health and health care. We work to dismantle barriers in health policy and health care delivery that prevent equitable opportunities for health. For more on our initiatives and programs please visit our website at www.uhfnyc.org and follow us on Twitter. 


Sept. 29, 2021
Focus Area
Clinical-Community Partnerships
Children's Health Initiative