Report: Over 2 Million Children Affected by the Opioid Epidemic

This Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018 photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York.

This Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018 photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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The societal costs associated with children’s exposure to opioids could total $400 billion by 2030, a new report from the United Hospital Fund estimates.

An estimated 2.2 million children across the United States have felt the impact of the opioid epidemic, exposures that could result in billions of dollars in health care costs and other ongoing expenses through adulthood, according to new research.

Children are most frequently affected through parents’ use of opioids, with 1.4 million children living with a parent with an opioid use disorder in 2017, according to a report released last month by the United Hospital Fund, a New York-based nonprofit. Additionally, about 325,000 children have been removed from their homes due to an opioid-related issue and another 170,000 children have used or abused opioids.

Individuals affected by the opioid crisis as children are more likely to incur higher expenses for things like healthcare or their own drug treatment, the report states. The societal costs associated with more than 2 million  children being exposed to some aspects of opioids could total $180 billion, including long-term expenses that accrue through adulthood, the report said. Those projected costs include spending on the criminal justice system, drug and alcohol-related treatment and health care.

If current trends continue, the report estimates that the number of children who have an opioid use disorder or live with a parent with a disorder could reach 4.3 million by 2030. The cumulative lifetime costs of the “ripple effect” from additional spending could reach $400 billion, the report states.

Just as the opioid epidemic has taken a stronger hold in some states than others, children have not been evenly affected across the United States either.

West Virginia has long had the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in the country. Not surprising, given the opioid epidemic’s outsize impact on the rural state, it also had the highest rate of impact among children.  An estimated 22,000 children have been affected by the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, or 54 out of every 1,000 children in the state.  

The opioid epidemic has already been blamed for an increasing number of children in the state’s foster care system, an amount that has doubled from 10 years ago. An estimated 6,900 children are in state care, and more than 80% are believed to have been impacted by the opioid epidemic.

Other states where the opioid epidemic’s impacts on children are being acutely felt include New Hampshire, Vermont, Kentucky, and Delaware, which each saw more than 40 children per 1,000 affected by opioids. The total projected societal costs in those five states could top $17 billion by 2030, according to the report.

Nationally, 28 out of 1,000 children felt the opioid crisis.

The report recommends several strategies for reducing some of the costs associated with the care of children affected by the opioid epidemic. Local leaders can work to coordinate responses among health care providers, law enforcement, child welfare agencies, and schools, “so families struggling with substance use disorder receive a ‘no-wrong-door’ approach to evidence-based services.” Further, leaders can create protocols to make sure children on the scene of parental overdoses or other traumatic events get assistance. Providing aid for foster parents or other caregivers to support children who are exposed to trauma through the opioid epidemic, and increasing the availability of family-based mental health services can also be beneficial, the report said.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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