Opioid Orphan Crisis

A Brief Timeline

Dating back to the seventeenth century American Civil War, opioids have become a seemingly permanent fixture in American society. Originally a battlefield anesthetic, morphine was the first opioid introduced to the people of the United States. Although the drug was presented as a way to reduce severe pain, morphine did in a way, unleash a beast that would ravage lives for centuries to come.

In efforts to assist those who became dependent on the drug, the government issued heroin to be commercially distributed in 1898. The newer drug was thought to be less addictive and was utilized as morphine’s replacementーjust as e-cigarettes are used by those who wish to quit smoking.

In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act passed by Congress demanded prescriptions in order to gain access to narcotics. For the remainder of the 1900s, laws were instilled to further discourage leisure use of narcotics, all in efforts to combat the growing issue of substance abuse.

The failure of large scale companies like Purdue Pharma to produce safe products that aligned with government regulations led to a series of legal conflicts. The conflicts were defined by misconduct of those in positions of power, including doctors and pharmacists working with opioids and opioid abusers, culminating in the arrest of 280 individuals.

The Vulnerable and Voiceless

With narcotics often regarded as an issue exclusive to teenagers and adults, children remain the silent sufferers. Both the aforementioned misconduct of pharmaceutical companies and the addictive nature of opioids have insidiously seeped into the lives of children. Such pain extends to both the physical experiences and lasting psychological effects that may follow the exposure to substance abuse.

Opioid addicted parents also heighten the likelihood of drug dependency in a child’s own life. According to the Rehab Spot, in 2015, a staggering 122,000 youth aged 12 through 17 suffered from opioid addiction as a byproduct of both parental addiction and the increase in distributed prescriptions. Experiencing a parent overdose only magnifies this issue, as the trauma of the event invites further addiction.

Given the circumstances, eventual child neglect is neither uncommon nor surprising. When considering even the most well-meaning addict, it is apparent that the care they wish to express becomes secondary to their itching desire for their drug of choice. According to the Hope Rehab Center in Thailand, addiction lowers its victim to a state of acting in accordance to instinct rather than rationality, often leaving childcare on the backburner.

The opioid epidemic has stolen many parents through substance-related fatalities and left many households unfit for children, ultimately leaving them orphaned. In the United States alone, there were approximately 274,000 children placed into the foster care system in 2016, about a third of whom experienced their earlier life under the care of at least one addict parent. If not left entirely orphaned, many (2.4 million) children were placed under the care of their grandparents despite many of the grandparents’ own battles with poverty.

The Modern-Day Extent of The Crisis

The state most hard-hit by the opioid crisis is West Virginia, where children as young as elementary school level are learning the trade secrets of substance abuse. In Jackson County, WV resides 10 year old Brianna Sotomayor, a victim of the effects of the opioid crisis. Along with her sister, Brianna bounced from home to home after leaving the care of a drug addict mother and a father who was constantly in and out of jail.

Eventually finding sanctuary in the Sotomayor home, Brianna and her sister were given a second opportunity. Although neither of their biological parents were present enough to sustain the girls’ needs, they were luckily able to escape their previous life of uncertainty and abuse. They are only two children of the many, however, whose lives were and are at risk because of opioid addiction and substance abuse.

What Now?

Prevention is the ultimate solution in terms of saving families from distress and potential addicts from self destruction. Despite this seemingly direct objective, prevention is not clear cut. It comes with many of its own challenges, all of which stem from the multitudinous factors that lead to drug dependency.

The issue at this moment is most effectively addressed on smaller-scales, such as in local schools and organizations like Cottageville Elementary school in WV. In attempts to tend to the physical and emotional needs of the children going to school each day from opioid infested homes, Cottageville staff provide food and clothing, as well as attempt to offer parental affection more readily than most other schools or institutions.

States have also implemented various child saving agencies, along with intervention services for affected families. Residential treatment programs have extended their hand to children and mothers impacted as well, all in an attempt to conserve the most vulnerable.

Donating to organizations supporting the fragile child victims of the opioid crisis is a major contribution accessible to those with the means. Where a paved route for a solution does not exist, you can turn to support smaller organizations through donations or volunteering. A list of a few can be located here.

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