There's a New Term for These Overlooked Victims of the Opioid Epidemic

April 1st, 2017

The death toll from the opioid epidemic is staggering, with 78 people in the U.S. dying from an overdose each day. But those aren't the only victims of this drug crisis: there are also the children of parents struggling with addiction.

There's now a specific term for this group: opioid orphans.

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Child protective services have been overwhelmed in recent years as the epidemic claims more and more lives. "After declining for several years, the number of children in foster care jumped 8 percent nationally, to 428,000, between fiscal years 2012 and 2015," The New York Times reported.

In some cases, grandparents have volunteered to step up and take responsibility for their grandchildren. But that's a tremendous financial burden; unlike foster parents, grandparents aren't entitled to the same state funds to help support these children. But in Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by the crisis, a group is pushing lawmakers to make the reimbursements more equitable.

"I receive $360 a month for both kids," Ginny Crow, who assumed responsibility for her niece's two children after one of them was born addicted to opioids, told ABC 5. "For the first time in my life, I have to stress about how am I going make sure that we have food for the end of the week. It’s a scary thought."

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At the same time that the problem has worsened, child welfare budgets have been gradually slashed at the federal level. From 2002 to 2014, overall child welfare spending has declined by 5 percent, according to a 2016 report from the advocacy group Child Trends.

"For everyone, the crisis happened so quickly, there was no time to gear up," child advocate Maria Moissades said in a report for the Pew Charitable Trusts. "No one knew it was going to be as big."