Opioid Epidemic: Children Suffering in the Shadows


Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives due to overdose over the last two decades. The opioid addiction epidemic has impacted millions more; loved ones lost, and families separated – torn apart by substance use disorder – the cost of this public health crisis is steep.

Headlines and research that center on the opioid epidemic typically involve overdose rates, naloxone, treatment, and recovery. As such, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the fallout of this most severe drug scourge is vast. Many of the men and women currently struggling with prescription opioids and heroin are fathers and mothers.

Over the last twenty years, an overwhelming number of children have grown up in homes plagued by addiction. Many of these same children have lost one or more parent to overdose; many more have been separated from their families by child protective services.

It’s challenging to predict what these young people’s lives will be like as they age and grow up. A large number of grandparents have become court appointed guardians of their children’s children. Tens of thousands of kids are in foster care; some have been adopted.

Simply put, the epidemic has not spared young people by any means. In the coming years, these youths and young adults will require the support of their community and their local and federal government.

In the Shadow of an Epidemic

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the scope and scale of the American opioid addiction epidemic. It’s even harder to generate a clear picture of the havoc wrought by opioid misuse and abuse across the country.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS is a condition that arises when a child is exposed to opioids in the womb. Withdrawal symptoms present at birth requiring substantial medical supervision to prevent further complications. NAS babies are typically separated from their mother and placed in the care of another.

Hopefully, said new parent seeks treatment, finds recovery, and actively seeks to be reunited with their child. Sadly, that does not always happen; breaking the cycle of addiction takes tremendous effort under the best of circumstances.

The United Hospital Fund (UHF), a health policy nonprofit, conducted a study to determine how the epidemic has impacted young people. The findings of the report are startling, and it’s highly likely that far more young people will be affected by this crisis. The UHF found that the epidemic had impacted at least 2.2 million children in the United States by 2017. By the year 2030, the report estimates that 4.3 million children will be affected—at the cost of $400 billion.

“Even if we could stop the epidemic cold in its tracks today, the ripples will last long into the future,” says Suzanne Brundage, the study’s lead author and director of UHF’s Children’s Health Initiative. 

The number of affected children varied from state to state, with California having the highest number at 196,000 in 2017. That’s 20 kids per 1,000 whose lives have been altered by the opioid crisis.

If the above figures are not shocking enough, the research showed that 170,000 children had opioid use disorder themselves, according to U.S. News & World Report. This demographic will likely experience problems similar to their parent(s) as they age.

“The opioid epidemic is clearly driving forward a wave of children affected by family substance use disorder,” Brundage says. “We need policymakers, (the) private sector, community leaders and the general public to … start responding today.”

California Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

If you or someone you love is in the grips of an opioid use disorder, then please contact Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat. HVRC is a licensed Chemical Dependency Rehabilitation Hospital (CDRH); this status allows us to provide programs and specialty services all in one facility—from detox to aftercare. We are also equipped to treat patients who struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders that often present with addiction.

Those who take the first step toward recovery with HVRC stand an excellent chance of turning their lives around. Treatment works, and long-term recovery is possible.