Opioid epidemic driving up number of Polk County children going into foster care, report finds

Published 8:00 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

The opioid epidemic has devastated North Carolina families, driving thousands of children into foster care, according to a new report by NC Child.

Statewide, parental substance misuse was a contributing factor to children entering foster care in 39 percent of cases in 2016-17, a 50 percent increase since 2007-08. In Polk County, 22 percent of children were in out-of-home care 2016-17 as a result of parental substance misuse.

The report argues that unaffordable health insurance puts treatment out of reach for many struggling to overcome opioid addiction. Closing the health insurance coverage gap could give parents the prevention and treatment options they need to provide a safe, stable environment for their children, the report said.

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“Substance use disorder is a tragic disease that can tear apart families and leave children without stable, nurturing homes. The opioid epidemic is driving this crisis to a new level in our state,” said Whitney Tucker, research director at NC Child.

All children who experience trauma must overcome significant challenges, but children whose parents suffer from substance use disorder often experience even greater obstacles. These children are more likely to be placed in out-of-home care and they are more likely to stay in care longer than other children, both of which lead to poor long-term outcomes.

In 2014, an estimated 144,000 uninsured North Carolinians with a mental health diagnosis or substance use disorder had incomes below the income limit for expanded Medicaid eligibility authorized by the Affordable Care Act.

Donald McDonald, executive director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, a statewide membership organization representing the interests of addiction professionals, described the importance of health insurance for those struggling with addiction.

“Addictions specialists see individuals daily who want to recover, but who don’t have access to adequate and appropriate services. We know what causes substance use disorder and we know how to treat it and we know people get better than well. But only 1 in 10 get the help they deserve. Meanwhile, drug overdoses have doubled since 2010. Closing the health insurance coverage gap would unlock the full spectrum of addiction care — prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery — which could make a substantial difference as we work to help North Carolinians find freedom and wellness,” McDonald said.

-Submitted by Whitney Tucker