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Opioids: Dealing Pain and Despair

The work of the Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT) program is focused on families whose infants and toddlers are in foster care. More than 80% of the parents are struggling with substances of addiction including opioids. Despair goes hand in hand with their addiction.

by Lucy Hudson, Director, Safe Babies Court Team Project, ZERO TO THREE

The Opioid Crisis has received a great amount of attention from the press. It is a rare news day when there isn’t at least one story about it. Overdose deaths are dramatic events that shock and sadden whole communities, especially when the victim is the captain of the town’s high school football team or the lawyer who prepared your will. Due to the high number of deaths from overdose, government at all levels is making attempts to save lives through outreach campaigns, the ready availability of naloxone (a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose), training for first responders, innovative treatment approaches such as that offered to teens by their pediatricians, and an increased willingness to see addiction as the medical disorder it is.

The communities around the country that are hardest hit by the Opioid Crisis also experience high unemployment and poverty rates. In a recent Atlantic article (Khazan, July 19, 2017) called “How Job Loss Can Lead to Drug Use,” Olga Khazan reported on American and European research that described a strong correlation between illegal drug use and joblessness, especially among young adults who grew up in poor families. In an earlier article in The Atlantic (Khazan, April 28, 2017, “The Link Between Opioids and Unemployment”), Khazan reported on new research showing that for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, the opioid death rate increased by 3.6% and hospital emergency room visits escalated by 7%.

Portsmouth, Ohio, after being a leader in numbers of addicts and overdose deaths, began a communal recovery by preventing the closure of its last remaining manufacturing plant, bringing jobs back to the city, restoring derelict parks, improving public monitoring of rental properties, creating a downtown where people want to congregate, closing down the pill mill pain clinics, and opening the first drug-free hangout spot in the state. Good ideas and the commitment to make them happen have come from the local community college, churches, businesspeople, and from recovering addicts. Together the people of Portsmouth are laying down the building blocks of a healthy and vibrant community (Quinones, 2016).

The work of the Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT) program is focused on families whose infants and toddlers are in foster care. More than 80% of the parents are struggling with substances of addiction including opioids. Despair goes hand in hand with their addiction. As borne out in the studies mentioned above, the inability to provide for your family is linked to increasingly desperate ways of coping with the bleak realities of your life. Parents are also drawn into addiction by the need to escape the multiple adverse childhood experiences (average score of 4.55 of a possible 10; C. Casanueva, personal communication, June 20, 2017) that dominate their memories of the past.

Like Portsmouth, Ohio, parents need hope for the future and that is what communities implementing the SBCT approach give them. We articulate our belief in their ability to get past the problems that brought their young children into foster care. We honor their love for their children. We grieve with them about the terrible things that happened to them when they were children. We help them find safe housing. We make sure they have enough to eat. We give them scientific information about addiction and why it is so hard to overcome. We give them opportunities to succeed with their children. And they tell us, “You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.” We just published a brief document titled “Guiding Values for Working With Families Affected by Addiction” (Bell & Hudson, 2017) that lays out the ways we have learned to successfully support parents whose addiction stands between them and reunification with their babies and toddlers.

References

Bell, D., & Hudson, L. (2017). Safe Babies Court Team Approach: Guiding values for working with families affected by addiction. Retrieved from www.qicct.org/sites/default/files/GuidingValues092917.pdf
Khazan, O. (2017, April 18). The link between opioids and unemployment. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/04/joblessness-and-opioids/523281/ Khazan, O. ( 2017, July 19). How job loss can lead to drug use. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/07/how-job-loss-can-lead-to-drug-use/534087/ Quinones, S. (2016). Dreamland: The true tale of America’s opiate epidemic. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

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