Report: Response to Opioid Epidemic Needs Sharper Focus on Children

A new report from the United Hospital Fund and the Milbank Memorial Fund finds that too little attention has been given to the children and families who are suffering devastating consequences due to our country's opioid crisis. 

“Children in families affected by substance use are often hidden from view until there is an overdose, arrest, or other crisis,” said Carol Levine, co-author of the report and director of UHF’s Families and Health Care Project in a press release on the report. “The good news is that existing capabilities in agencies and programs that support children and families can be leveraged, along with lessons from prior public health crises—the HIV/AIDS and crack cocaine epidemics in particular.” 

The report carries four major recommendation catagories: 

  • Reduce stigma and misunderstanding of opioid use and treatment. Goverment leaders should promote the use of nonjudgmental language in addiction. Leaders also should take a lesson from how stigma was reduced for cancer and HIV/AIDS. Brundage says the emergence of treatments that worked was one of the pivotal factors in reducing stigma toward HIV. Certainly the wider use of evidence-based medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid dependence could help lead to the same result.

  • Make investing in a response to the ripple effect a priority. “Effective programs that can help children affected by, or at risk for, substance use disorder have not been scaled to the scope of the problem,” the report states. Policy-makers should encourage the integration of services for parents and children into one setting. Also, efforts should be made to close geographic and racial disparities in service delivery. Currently, “The door the family first goes through determines what happens to them,” Levine says.

  • Ensure that government and private agencies work as a team. One priority here should be for leaders to establish a coordinated prenatal care system that links to substance use disorder treatment providers and that seeks to prevent foster care placement.

  • Identify children at risk as early as possible. Adults who regularly interact with children need assistance in recognizing the signs of childhood trauma and connecting children to trauma-informed care. Levine says earlier identification of problems emerged as a common theme in last fall's meeting of experts.

A full copy of the report can be found by clicking here.