A record number of children are being sent into foster care in states ravaged by the opioid crisis, making it difficult for social services to keep up.
The increases in children entering foster care began in 2010, just as the national opioid epidemic was gaining steam, according to an analysis by The Hill published Wednesday. States particularly swamped with opioid addiction have seen increases as large as 40 percent in their foster care populations over the past four years.
The analysis also found the overall number of kids transferred into some kind of state care is rapidly increasing. The children are increasingly younger and spending greater time in state systems, experts said. (RELATED: Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Surge 1,000 Percent Across Greater Cincinnati Region)
“A huge number of children [are] coming into the system now because of parental addiction to opioids that a lot of time has been brought on by pain medication,” Wendi Turner, executive director of the Ohio Family Care Association, told The Hill. “Children that are coming into care are staying in care longer because there’s a higher risk of relapse with their parents. I don’t think our state was prepared for the number of children coming into care so quickly so now we have recruitment efforts going, trying to recruit more parents and also train those parents to handle some of the unique needs of the children.”
Opioids are killing a record number of people in Ohio, which now has the second-highest death rate from drug overdoses in the U.S. behind only West Virginia. The foster care population has increased by 28 percent in Ohio since 2015, while West Virginia has experienced a 42-percent increase since 2014.
Social services are struggling to keep up with the increases, and officials said outdated policy is causing added suffering among the children. Workers are required by federal law to make “reasonable efforts” to reunify children taken into foster services with their parents.
When it comes to drug abuse, which accounted for 34 percent of all national foster cases in 2016, officials said relapses often put the children back into a dangerous environment.
Drug overdose deaths surged in 2016 by 21 percent nationally, claiming more than 64,000 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase is driven primarily by opioids like heroin and fentanyl, which claimed 42,249 lives in 2016, a 28-percent increase over the roughly 33,000 lives lost to opioids in 2015.
Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, experienced a particularly dramatic increase, more than doubling from 9,580 lives in 2015 to 19,413 lives in 2016.
The epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S., officials said. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.
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