The opioid epidemic, bolstered by widespread addiction to prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine, is pushing an alarming number of children into the foster care system, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs.
Researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) analyzed the association between the rate of opioid prescriptions in Florida and the number of children removed from their homes due to parental neglect.
“Through my experience as a foster parent, I’ve seen firsthand how the foster system has been overwhelmed by children removed from homes where the parents are opioid-dependent,” said lead author Troy Quast, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida College of Public Health. “My goal in this study was to gain insight into the factors behind this surge.”
Quast and his colleagues analyzed data on 67 counties in Florida that had been submitted to the federal government’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System from 2012-2015. They discovered that roughly two out of every 1,000 kids and teens were removed from their homes due to parental neglect in 2015, reflecting a staggering 129 percent increase since 2012.
Data from the Florida Drug-Related Outcomes Surveillance and Tracking System shows that the number of opioids prescribed during this same time period rose nine percent. In 2012, doctors prescribed 72.33 prescriptions for every 100 residents. The rate grew to 81.34 by 2015, averaging 74.1 prescriptions during the 2012-2015 time frame.
It’s important to note the rate dropped 2.5 percent in 2013, following the implementation of several new state policies regarding pain clinics and a prescription drug monitoring program.
The range of Florida’s opioid prescription rate was dramatic. Some counties averaged about one prescription a year for every three people, while other counties had as many as one and a half opioid prescriptions per person each year. The highest rates were found in predominantly white counties.
The analysis showed that on average, for every additional 6.7 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, the removal rate for parental neglect increased by 32 percent. This estimated increase corresponds to roughly 2,000 additional children removed, resulting in an annual state fiscal cost of $40 million.
Prior research has found that when children are removed from their homes due to parental neglect, they face a greater likelihood of juvenile delinquency, teen motherhood, mental and physical health problems, and adult criminality.
“While the reported drop in opioid prescription rates over the last two years is encouraging, unfortunately it appears illicit opioid use has more than offset the decrease,” said Quast. “We need to keep affected children in the forefront of our minds when tackling this crisis.”
Source: University of South Florida