The Opioid Crisis and The Effect on Children


Parent and caregiver addiction and drug use is a major risk factor for child abuse and neglect. Neglect is the #1 form of child abuse in America, and the main reason children are removed from their homes.

What happens to kids during childhood shapes who they become as adults. Children living through abuse and violence, unnecessarily suffer the ill effects of this trauma for the rest of their lives. Today we say #ItsTime to change the way we represent, treat, and protect our children in America. All kids deserve a good chance at life! It starts in childhood.

The Impact of the Opioid Crisis

Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

The Opioid Crisis in the US and the effect upon children American SPCC

What Do We Know About The Opioid Crisis?

  • Roughly 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8% and 12% develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4% to 6% who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30% from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70% from July 2016 through September 2017.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54% in 16 states.

This issue has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences including increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy.

Domestic Violence child statistics American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children
The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Children American SPCC

The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Children

Parental opioid and other substance abuse can have a devastating impact on children. The early trauma exposure makes children more likely to suffer later mental health disorders including substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Children are the often-hidden victims of our nation’s opioid epidemic.

A 2015 study from the National Institutes of Health, has found that children exposed to opiates during pregnancy suffer from behavior and attention problems. Such children require therapy and often specially licensed and trained foster families, and states say they are struggling to recruit foster families to house them.

The increase in the number of children in foster care comes at the same time there is an increase in the percent of children entering foster care due to substance abuse. Anecdotal evidence and expert opinion link this increase to the parallel rise in parental opioid addiction and overdoses. One-third of children entering foster care in 2016 were due at least in part to parental drug abuse—an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2005.

Neglect, the finding in 61 percent of child maltreatment cases and the leading reason for foster care entry, is also often a result of substance abuse.

The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Newborns

The number of pregnant women using narcotic pain medications rose five-fold from 2000-2009 and continues to rise.

The increase has resulted in infants being born with a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) that is linked to birth defects and severe withdrawal symptoms demonstrated by the infant at birth. Children born with NAS may experience a variety of symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, tremors or seizures.

In America, the number of infants born addicted to opioids is growing and it is thought that 6 out of every 1,000 births are linked to NAS. Many children with NAS will end up in the foster care system. In fact, the number of children in foster care as a result of the opioid epidemic has risen 8 percent from 2012 to 2015.

With the increased rates of children being born to addicted mothers, it is expected that the number of children in foster care will continue to grow, increasing the strain on the already limited foster care system.

The Opioid Crisis 25% of babies born are suffer opiod withdrawal American SPCC
Dangers of Opioids and Children American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

The Dangers of Opioids & Children

  • Newborns whose mothers are addicted to opioids may undergo withdrawal themselves and need special treatment.
  • Children of all ages are at risk for accidental ingestion or inhalation of toxic substances.
  • Children living with an addicted parent, deal with constant uncertainty and fear.
  • Children who have taken over the role of family caregiver for younger siblings or for their addicted parents.
  • Children who are removed from their homes and placed in foster or kinship care. Some of these children have unmet mental health care needs.
  • Very young children exposed to toxic levels of stress that impair brain development.

The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Families

Addiction to prescription pain medications has had a devastating effect on families as exemplified by the increasing number of infants born to drug addicted mothers and children who reside in homes with parents addicted to opioid pain medications.

Opioid drug dependence is a national health concern because Americans consume 80% of the world’s supply of opioid pain medications.

Even more alarming, Americans consume 99% of the prescription drug Hydrocodone produced worldwide, which is a synthetic opioid derived from the pharmaceutical drug codeine and is very potent and addictive.

The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Children and Families American SPCC
The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Parents American SPCC

The Opioid Epidemic Impact on Parents

Parents addicted to opioids may suffer from a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and it is estimated that approximately 8 million children under the age of 18 live with at least one adult who has this disorder, with the majority of these children being under the age of five.

Substance abuse can occur at any stage of life but one risk factor that increases the likelihood an adult will abuse drugs includes a previous family history of living with a drug user.

About half of opioid overdose deaths occur among men and women ages 25 to 44; it’s reasonable to assume that many are parents. Parental overdoses have an immediate impact on children. There’s also a cumulative impact as these children become adults and are themselves at risk from the same influences that drove their parents to drugs, overdoses, and early deaths.

  • According to U.S. census data, more than 2.4 million grandparents are currently raising grandchildren.
  • In 2016, about 274,000 children entered the foster care system, 22,000 more than in 2012.
  • One-third of those youngsters were removed from their homes because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.

Types of Child Abuse

Child Neglect

Child Neglect is Child Abuse - American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

Physical Abuse


Emotional Abuse


Sexual Abuse

Sexual Child Abuse - American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse-Childhood-Experiences-ACEs Child Abuse American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is Child Abuse American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

Trafficking & Exploitation

Trafficking and Child Exploitation American SPCC The Nation's Voice for Children

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We thank all those who are already protecting our kids and keeping them safe every single day.

Click for References & Sources

  1. Opioid Overdose Crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved From:
  2. Prescription opioids: A growing epidemic of abuse. Journal of American Nurses 8 (2013): 38- 43.
  3. Thompson D. Health Day Reporter: Opioid addicted babies may struggle with learning (2017).
  4. Rappleye H, McHugh R, Farrow R. Born addicted: The number of opioid addicted babies is soaring (2017).
  5. Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M. The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social Work in Public Health 28 (2013): 194-205.