“Last year, Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) was home to 74 groups of siblings...Those numbers have risen sharply because opioid use has gripped and indiscriminately ripped families apart,” BCH president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell says.
She stands at the window looking out into the darkness. Her mind races as she tries
to understand what has happened to her family in the last 24 hours. She knew her mom was sick –– heartbroken after her father died. It seemed after he hurt his back on the job things never got better –– only got worse. He only had relief when taking his medicine –– and then one day he died.
Her younger sisters have fallen asleep. She worries about them. They became her responsibility since her mom had gotten into the habit of sleeping all day. The medicine her father took seems to be taking her mother away from she and her sisters. She would give anything if things were like before.
Now, she and her siblings are at this strange but safe place. She notices that her stomach is not rumbling. The sandwiches, milk and cake silenced her almost constant pangs of hunger.
“Last year, Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) was home to 74 groups of siblings. Brothers and sisters who, for their safety, could no longer live with family. Just six years ago, BCH cared for only 12 sibling groups. Those numbers have risen sharply because opioid use has gripped and indiscriminately ripped families apart,” BCH president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell says.
The statistics are stunning: Every 12 minutes in the United States, someone dies from opioid use; every 25 minutes in the United States, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal; 8.7 million children in the United States have a parent who suffers from substance abuse.
The human stories are even more stunning: In North Carolina, 5,679 children were placed in foster care two years ago; 19% of these children were infants; in 38% of these placements, substance abuse by a parent was the cause (second only to neglect).
As North Carolina families and communities struggle with the effects of opioid addiction, infants and children suffer from the fallout.
While the news concerning opioid use is pervasive, the facts may not be clear to the public. “Opioids” is a term for drugs that bind to receptors in the body for the relief of pain. They include medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine which are prescribed to manage pain after severe injuries and surgeries and for certain chronic health maladies.
“I have seen the affects of broken families from a myriad of reasons –– heartbreaking reasons,” Blackwell says. “Some children are impacted by heinous behavior by those to whom they are entrusted. Some children suffer because of the effects of substance abuse –– alcohol and street drugs. Never have I seen such a result from something so sinister as the impact of prescribed opioids.”
A primary contributing factor to the abuse of these medications lies in the very nature of pain. Pain is subjective, customized to the individual. While the medical profession utilizes a scale of one to ten to pinpoint the patient’s degree of pain, complete with pictures and graphics to aid understanding, one person’s ten can be another person’s six or even another’s three. Pain management is a necessary component of health care. But when the medication is highly addictive, like opioids are, potential risks to the patient and, in many cases, to the family cannot be overlooked.
Even the inherent qualities of opioids contribute to misuse. Opioids, as pain relievers, induce feelings of euphoria and stress relief; they can numb physical pain as well as emotional ups and downs associated with recovery from severe injuries and surgeries.
Even when taken as prescribed, patients can become addicted to opioids; not all patients take opioids as prescribed.
Because of these realities, more troubling statistics exist: 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them; between 8-12% develop an opioid use disorder; an estimated 4-6% of opioid abusers transition to heroin. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, nearly 80% of heroin users started with prescription opioids.
In addition, just over 85% of people suffering from drug dependence or abuse go untreated. That leads to a crisis for families and a critical risk for children and infants in those families.
“At a time like this, we all must respond,” Blackwell asserts. “It is a time to become informed –– a time to suspend judgement and embrace mercy for the sake of our children.”
Experts in the field, including social workers at BCH, warn of the devastation to the young ones in these situations. Children dealing with ongoing and traumatic experiences like opioid abuse in the home can experience social, emotional, physical, and mental health challenges that last into adulthood. Without intervention, early childhood adversity can lead to school failure, risky behaviors like alcohol and drug use, and increased chance of health conditions such as obesity and heart disease. When the adults in a family are in crisis, all members of that family are at risk.
“You cannot emphasize enough the detrimental impact of opioids on the family,” Blackwell continues. “Healthy families make a better tomorrow for everyone. Conversely, families destroyed during this crisis will impact society for years to come."
The opioid epidemic is a health crisis in the nation and in the state. While the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services works to connect people with preventative healthcare, substance use disorder treatment and community supports, this complex issue requires partnerships from many sectors, including the church. The welfare of the children must be protected while solutions are sought for the adults in crisis.
The opioid epidemic is real. Children in North Carolina are suffering. What can you do?
Pray. We are reminded in scripture that the enemy is like a lion roaming about, seeking those he can devour. The destruction of families is a concern of God. He is passionate about children and families. Turn to Him in prayer as intercessors and to seek ways you can help.
Support organizations like BCH who are on the front lines helping children and aiding families.
And finally, get involved. The more you know the better you will be able to help. As you learn more, share what you learn with others. It will take an army of concerned Christians to help stem the onslaught of this destructive epidemic.
Be ready to respond as God leads.
If you would like to support children who have been impacted by the opioid crisis, make your donation online at www.bchfamily.org/givenow