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Talking to Kids About the Opioid Crisis

Dr. John DeGarmo is the director of the Foster Care Institute, an adoptive father of three children, and has seen the opioid crisis firsthand. According to DeGarmo, the opioid epidemic is the main reason for the alarming rise of children in foster care. With the number of opioid prescriptions rapidly rising—a total of 259 million prescriptions were written in 2015—the United States has become the highest opioid consumer in the world. Children orphaned by the opioid crisis are thrust into an already overwhelmed foster care system. 

The opioid crisis is also generating a continuous spread of addiction and mental health issues. Johns Hopkins projects that by the year 2030, the lifetime cost of this devastation will total nearly $480 billion. That cost often is passed onto children struggling with mental health or abuse issues, who require special services to cope, heal, and manage lifelong trauma. “This includes additional spending in health care, special education, child welfare, and criminal justice stemming from the multiple impacts of parental opioid use disorder on a child’s physical, mental, and social-emotional health,” the report states. 

The widespread devastation of this crisis is gutting. While ultimately, local and federal governments need to change with laws and policies, you and your family can begin affecting change on a micro-level. The simplest way to start? Talk to your children. Given the scale of the national crisis, this is a conversation parents need to have with their children, just like with safe sex, sexual abuse, bullying, and social and digital safety. You can keep the conversation age-appropriate without sugarcoating it. Be clear about the real facts and long term effects of opioid abuse and addiction. Most people, especially young adults, do not realize how quickly addictions can form and how the repercussions will affect the rest of their life. 

The National Institute of Drug Abuse compiled valuable information to help families navigate conversations about opioid addiction. Many people falsely believe that people struggling with addiction sought out drugs to get high. As a result, your children may not realize that something as simple as a dental procedure or a sports injury could lead them down a dangerous path of dependence. Safety always begins at home.