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The Opioid Epidemic’s Effect on Kentucky Children & How You Can Help


Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. Opioid addiction refers to dependence on prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine or the illicit drug heroin.

Over the past few years, opioid overdoses have accounted for 63% of deaths from any type of drug overdose. In 2015, 33,091 Americans died from an opioid overdose; currently, 91 people die every day from opioids. The epidemic is not tied to only one region or demographic, meaning no community is immune to this crisis.

One of many tragic effects is that the opioid epidemic has had a startling effect on the ability of parents to safely care for their children. This has resulted in increases in the number of children in foster care nationwide. Unfortunately, the availability of people willing to provide temporary foster care to children hasn’t kept up with number of children needing homes.

Click here to learn more about becoming a foster parent and help youth affected by this crisis.

Kentucky Foster Care and the Opioid Epidemic

From 2012 to 2015, the percentage of removals of children from their homes that cited parental substance use as a contributing factor increased 13 percent (from 28.5 percent in 2012 to 32.2 percent in 2015). Compared to all other reasons for children being removed from the home, this was the largest percentage increase. Additionally, Kentucky has reported an increase in children entering foster care faster than they are leaving. The numbers speak volumes, as there are now more than 8,000 children in foster care in Kentucky, compared to 6,000 children four years ago.

Kentucky has the highest rate of children placed in kinship care in the country. While it’s important to keep children in foster care with relatives and other familiar caregivers whenever safely possible, the opioid crisis has made this more difficult to accomplish. This is because opioids can affect entire neighborhoods and families when introduced to a region, making kinship care difficult to achieve. The result is a much greater need for people willing to become foster parents. Foster parents provide a safe, loving home for a child while his/her parents overcome challenges and learn healthy skills so the child can safely return home.

70,000 children in Kentucky aren’t living with their parents. The opioid crisis has compounded this number even more. Child homelessness in Kentucky is the highest in the nation, largely due to the amount of opioid overdoses. After Harlan County in eastern Kentucky was devastated by the recession, many turned to opioids. Opioid addiction hasn’t abated, and now the county reports 26% of children as homeless.

How Can You Help?

Doctors typically prescribe opioids for pain relief. Because euphoria can occur from this medication, it can be highly addictive especially if prescribed in higher dosages. If you know someone who has slipped into opioid addiction, there are several clinics that provide help. Also, it’s recommended to be a positive source of support for someone to heal instead of a negative one.

KVC Kentucky provides substance abuse treatment programs for adolescents. These programs have proven to be highly effective and are provided in-home, meaning someone never has to attend an office for treatment. Because of this approach, individuals are more likely to remain healthy since treatment is provided in the home and community. Make a referral here if your child is in need of substance abuse treatment.

Whether or not you personally know someone affected by opioid addiction, there’s an important way you can help. The need for loving, supportive people willing to provide foster care to children and teens is greater than ever. You can significantly help a child impacted by the opioid crisis by becoming a foster parent. KVC Kentucky will support you throughout the process and provide ongoing, 24/7 support.

Have questions about fostering? Download this free guide to get answers to some of the most commonly asked questions!

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KVC Kentucky provides mental and behavioral healthcare, youth substance abuse treatment, foster care, and in-home family preservation and reunification services to keep families safely together.