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Editorial: Real victims of addiction

You don’t have to be addicted to heroin or Oxycontin for opioids to wreck your life. Just ask children forced into foster care because their parents are in the grip of the disease.

As the search continues for resources to treat addiction, leaders would do well to remember that the problem affects many more people than the addicts themselves. Their children could be impacted for a lifetime. Addiction prevention and treatment deserve far more than the grudging attention they receive in some corners.

Reports of child abuse and neglect have increased during the opioid epidemic, pushing up the number of children removed from their homes. A recent report from NC Child found Rowan County was no exception. Statewide, parental substance abuse was a contributing factor to children entering foster care in 39 percent of cases in 2016-17, up 50 percent since 2007-08. The report shows that the percentage of Rowan children forced into foster care as a result of parental drug abuse also reached 39 percent in 2016-17.

Donna Fayko, director of the Rowan County Department of Social Services, says 71 children entered the agency’s custody that year, about an 11 percent increase over the previous year. Furthermore, she says:

• Since fiscal year 2013, a total of 970 Rowan children (some more than once) were  involved in Child Protective Services Assessment decisions where a contributory factor was drug abuse.

• Parents are not the only ones using drugs. Fifty of those cases were related to the child’s drug abuse (5 percent).

“Rowan is very fortunate to have dedicated staff that are committed to meeting the needs of our foster youth and compassionate foster/resource parents to provide safe, nurturing environments,” Fayko says.

Courts also play a role, according to Fayko, and Rowan courts have been diligent in moving these cases through the system.

“In addition, we have established effective partnerships with clinicians and providers to address the underlying issues of biological parents, typically unresolved trauma,” Fayko says.

While the state provides funds for reunification services that might include assessment and intervention for the parents, there’s not enough money to pay for the ongoing substance abuse treatment most people need to overcome addiction.     

Could expanding Medicaid address that problem? The NC Child report argues that unaffordable health insurance puts treatment out of reach for many. Closing the health insurance gap “could give parents the prevention and treatment options they need to provide a safe, stable environment for their children,” NC Child says.

That would cost the government money — the federal government, at this point. But society is already paying a high price financially, socially and psychologically for the unabated spread of the opioid epidemic.

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