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When Parents are Addicted, What Happens to Kids?

PHOTO: Multiple agencies collaborated on new research that recommends ways Ohio can improve outcomes for children whose parents are addicted to heroin or opiate medications. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/morguefile.
PHOTO: Multiple agencies collaborated on new research that recommends ways Ohio can improve outcomes for children whose parents are addicted to heroin or opiate medications. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/morguefile.
October 8, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio - State leaders have made strides in addressing Ohio's opiate epidemic through new policies, investments and initiatives. But little has been done to address the fallout experienced by the children affected by a parent's addiction.

Orman Hall, director of the Governor's Opiate Action Team, says families dealing with opiate abuse require the most resources as they navigate the child welfare system.

"People coming into the child welfare system struggling with opiate addiction have difficulty in complying with court orders, and often end up losing their children," Hall says. "We see a much higher percentage of children in placement from parents who are dealing with opiate addiction."

A new white paper provides some models for responding to the problem, including better screening and assessment, more collaboration between government agencies and courts, and an increase in the number of Family Dependency Treatment courts. It also recommends more child welfare workers, and more training for those workers, to allow more intensive case management to help families recover.

Some communities and judges are reluctant to reunify children with parents taking recovery medications, because they are not technically "clean." But Hall believes more medication-assisted treatment is needed, because it can decrease relapse rates and promote long-term recovery.

"Medication-assisted treatment, when combined with counseling and recovery supports, can make a powerful difference, in terms of the number of people struggling with opiate addiction," Hall says.

Prevention is also critical, and Hall says educational programs are making a difference, as more Ohioans are realizing the dangers of opiates.

"Over the span of the last two years, there's been around a 50-percent decline in terms of the adolescents reporting recreational use of prescription opiates, which really is an important indicator that we're moving in the right direction," he says.

According to the research paper, child welfare cases involving parents abusing heroin, cocaine or both have risen from about 15 percent to more than 25 percent of caseloads in the last five years.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH