One of the greatest tragedies of the opioid epidemic is how it devastates families.
The most recent numbers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), show that 115 people die every day from opioid overdose in the US. Out of the tens of thousands of people losing their lives to opioids each year, a large number of them leave behind children. Some health officials call kids who have lost their parents to the ongoing crisis “opioid orphans”. And recent data shows how the impact of the epidemic on the foster care system has been staggering.
In many cases, a child may be removed from their birth parents custody if a court determines them unfit due to their drug use, or a child may lose their parents forever to overdose. All around the country, this has become a growing problem. Experts believe the opioid and heroin addiction epidemic has severely impacted the rising number of children orphaned or essentially abandoned by their parents.
Opioid Orphans: Surviving an Outbreak
All over the country, there are opioid orphans living with family members after losing their parents. The Department of Health and Human Services states that in 2016:
- Approximately 92,000 children were removed from their homes because at least one parent had an issue with substance abuse
- 34% of cases with children removed from the home were related to substance abuse
According to other recent reports:
- 2.7 million grandparents and other relatives are raising opioid orphans all across America
- Children 3-5 years old have the highest rates of living with their grandparents
- 642,000 3-5 year-olds live with both grandparents
- 660,000 3-5 year-olds live with their grandmothers
- 114,000 3-5 year-olds live with their grandfathers
It is hard to solidify the exact figures connecting the heroin epidemic to the overall increase in children being cared for by someone other than their parents. However, there are many signs that indicate there is a very real connection between these two issues.
For example, according to Kentucky Youth Advocates, the state has:
- The highest rate of “kinship care” in the country
- Estimated 68,000 children there live with a grandparent or blood relative
- 8,200 are in foster care
Meanwhile, Kentucky also has an opioid-overdose death rate of 23.6 per 100,000 people. That is nearly double the national opioid overdose death rate.
Sadly, in many cases, the children do not have a family to take them in, at which point they become part of an already strained foster care system.
In both rural and urban areas, the opioid epidemic is reported to have created an outbreak of abandoned and orphaned children. In Ohio, one of the states hit the worst by the opioid crisis:
- 14% increase in children in agency custody in 5 years
- Approximately 14,000 children in agency custody in 2017
Ohio’s Attorney General, Mike DeWine, states:
“We think about 50% of the kids who are in foster care in Ohio are there because one or both parents are in fact drug addicts.”
West Virginia has seen similar spikes in the last few years. According to West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR):
- 24% increase in children in foster care between 2012 and 2016
- 5,182 children in foster care in 2016
- 6,399 children were in foster care in 2017
It is difficult to give an exact number of how many of these cases are directly due to substance abuse. However, officials who have worked with the West Virginia DHHR have suggested that anywhere between 50% and 90% of new foster care cases were related to substance abuse.
Between 2011 and 2015, 14 states saw the number of children in the foster care system spike by more than a quarter. According to the advocacy group Children’s Rights, kids in many states, including Texas and Oregon, have been forced to sleep in state buildings because there were not enough foster homes for them all.
Looking at the data, it is truly heartbreaking to imagine how many thousands of opioid orphans are living every day not knowing when or where they will ever have a home.
Opioid Orphans: Examining the Impact
How can we measure the impact of parental addiction on children?
Some teens slowly watch as their normal life is torn apart by drugs, while other kids grow up experiencing horrific trauma and abuse. Many opioid orphans watch their parents try to get clean for years; while others are forced to watch their parents die of an overdose, not knowing why or how to help.
Then there are the opioid orphans who are themselves born addicted. Recent data suggests that every 15 minutes, a baby is born substance-exposed. This year almost 50,000 of these children will enter the foster care system, more than ever before. Many children born with prenatal exposure to opioids and other drugs have to fight from the moment they are born. And once they enter into the foster system, their lives often become another battle.
There is no set standard for examining the impact of a parent’s addiction on children. On one hand, there are thousands of healthy infants who eventually end up in safe and loving foster homes until their birth parents can get help. Meanwhile, other children are so devastated by a parent’s addiction that they develop their own problems with drugs or alcohol. Some kids find themselves stuck in a cycle of foster family after foster family or end up living in a group home. While it is often a better place than living with addicted parents, group homes can be strained by overcrowding and limited resources.
Sadly, so many opioid orphans struggle to cope with the loss of their parent or being taken from their homes. These children often grapple with issues like feelings of abandonment and anxiety. They can end up suffering academically, socially, mentally and emotionally due to their experiences with an addicted parent.
Opioid Orphans: Healing a Generation
One thing we can say with certainty is this generation has a larger population of opioid orphans than America has ever seen. More and more children have lost their parents to overdose, been abandoned by their parent for drugs, or been taken from their family because of substance abuse in the home. So how will these kids grow up? Despite having loving grandparents and relatives, or compassionate foster families, what will be the long-term outcome of kids who lose their mothers and fathers to opioids?
Officials believe that there needs to be more support and better regulation for the foster care system. Many believe there should be giving more financial support to institutions dealing with opioid orphans and other foster children. Some officials also insist there should be better legislation to protect the rights of the children affected by the loss of a parent.
Of course, a huge part of helping children impacted by opioids is to help heal their families. A crucial component of healing this generation of opioid orphans is to help put their families back together. This means giving their parents an opportunity to get the help they need.
No child should have to grow up without parents who love them.
There should be more services that assist foster care providers, grandparents and other relatives with giving these children a better quality of life. And likewise, there should be expanded access to holistic addiction treatment for the parents. Because people with addiction also deserve to have a better quality of life.
This almost means making families part of the recovery process. Healing those who suffer and reuniting families should always be a priority in the battle against addiction.
Palm Partners Recovery Center believes in reuniting loved ones and help families heal. Recovery from addiction is about working together to ensure that people who have suffered have a chance at a better future. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
We’ve all heard that oh-so-clever cliché that has been used by generic T-shirt makers and plastered on ironic bumper-stickers… “HUGS NOT DRUGS.” You may have heard it so often that it has become a bit irritating. Some guy at your favorite coffee shop who collects random graphic shirts with witty quotes probably wears that one like he invented it. But realistically, the concept of a “friendly neighborhood HUG dealer” is probably a lot more valuable than it sounds.
The truth is that when you take into account the impact of physiology on your sociology and psychology, it makes a lot more sense for most people. When examining the physical science behind our response to hugs, it should be obvious that dealing out hugs like it’s your business do well for our mental health.
Ok, so remember in science class how they explained your skin is the largest organ of your body? Ok, show off, I don’t! But still, it is. While skin keeps a lot of the bad stuff out, it also takes in a lot. Skin collects external data from the world around us and sends it to the brain for processing. The most effect body parts for picking up precise pieces of sensory measurements are:
- Finger tips
- Soles of our feet
Now knowing that, it makes sense that a hug provides us with a bevy of complex responses neurologically. A hug creates a reaction in the brain that is sent through our sensitive nerve endings, giving us a good feeling.
Research has told us that stress causes our body to produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol actually slows down the healing process while create something like cliff-note memories in the mind. These cliff-notes will be stored in relation to circumstances to teach us how to avoid that same stress in the future.
Another thing Cortisol does when we experience social rejection is make us more willing to make friends and establish connections. For example, if people are in stressful situation as a group, they often bond through their shared peril. When a natural disaster occurs communities unite, and we probably have Cortisol to thank for that. Stress creates an environment where we will seek comfort and protection through one another.
Then through empathy we react in a supportive nature when someone we know is stressed. Naturally many people will offer a hug of support and compassion, thus igniting the body’s natural means of a “high” through Oxytocin!
Oxytocin itself is a neurochemical that has a few positive effects on an individual, including:
- Building trust
- Dissolving short-term memory
- Warm, fuzzy feeling
Researchers have even discovered that Oxytocin can speed the physical healing of wounds!
So when you offer someone in pain a hug it not only gets the Oxytocin pumping to keep those good feelings going, but it also helps the body disconnect from the memory of painful stimulus. Giving a hug not only jump-starts the body’s ability to heal, but protects it form creating harmful associations to circumstances.
2 Birds, 1 Hug
The big thing about being a “hug dealer” is that it is actually killing two birds with one stone- or two burdens with one hug.
How? Simple; doing good makes us feel good.
If you are an empathetic creature then you instinctively want to help heal someone who is hurting. When we see someone in great pain we intuitively put ourselves in their shoes and feel what they feel. Feeling their pain can get into our heart and soul. So we hug them to heal us both at once without even knowing it.
All together we can gather from this information that being a “hug dealer” makes an impact on the lives of both parties, and usually doesn’t result in indescribable misery or criminal charges… well, at least just don’t hug strangers without permission.
- A hug promotes social connections
- A hug relieves stress
- A hug helps build trust
- A hug promotes empathy
- A hug disrupts unhealthy memories of association
- A hug helps active the healing process
There are so many reasons why we are wired to find comfort and healing in a welcoming and supportive embrace. It communicates to us both directly and subconsciously that we are not alone and we do not need to suffer.
That’s why I am a “hug dealer,” because I see the value in offering comfort and connection to people in pain. I’ve known pain in my life; I know the value of a personal connection. Creating love and compassion in that kind of connection is the cheapest high I have ever known. Everyone should be a “hug dealer,” not just for others, but for their own good. It just feels good to embrace another person, especially when they need it most. Our bodies are just build that way, and we should take more advantage of it than we do. Look at the world around you- at your relationships and at your community- wouldn’t a hug once in a while help?
Come on, bring it in… first one is free!
Empathy, compassion and connection are much needed in the world today as a whole. For the addict, it may seem like something so far forgotten. In reality, connection is one of our deepest needs and can be the greatest natural high. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Some say that adversity for adolescence can be a trauma that catalyzes their future potential for sustainable mental health. Others would say that we cannot let our traumas define us, and that we have a conscious decision to make our own definitions out of our experiences. The stories we tell ourselves have the meaning we give them, and we can make the same stories into epitaphs of empowerment in a hero’s journey, or we can make them tales of turmoil that set us on a path to destruction.
But what if those experiences actually do a little more than alter our mood, what if they actually alter our brains?
In 1995, physicians Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda launched a large-scale epidemiological study probing the child and adolescent histories of 17,000 subjects with shocking results.
The ACE Study
In this study they compared childhood experiences to later adult health records, and in the process they discovered nearly 2/3 of individuals had encountered one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Felitti and Anda coined the term for ACEs to encompass the chronic, unpredictable, and stress-inducing events some children face, including:
- Growing up with a depressed parent
- Growing up with an alcoholic parent
- Losing a parent to divorce or other causes
- Enduring chronichumiliation
- Emotional neglect
- Sexual or physical abuse
The conclusion they came to was that the number of ACEs an individual experienced predicted the amount of medical care they would require as an adult with astounding accuracy, and some of these revelations were quite troubling:
- Individuals who had faced 4 or more categories of ACEs were 2 times likely to be diagnosed with cancer
- For each ACE Score a woman had, her risk of being hospitalized with an autoimmune disease rose by 20%
- Someone with an ACE Score of 4 was 460% more likely to suffer from depressionthan someone with an ACE Score of 0.
- An ACE Score greater than or equal to 6 shortened an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years
The ACE Study tells us these traumatic childhood events predispose individuals to a variety of chronic conditions in adulthood.
Today, in labs across the country, neuroscientists are peering into the once inscrutable brain-body connection, and breaking down, on a biochemical level, exactly how the stress we face when we’re young catches up with us when we’re adults, altering our bodies, our cells, and even our DNA, with startling results.
The more bewildering conclusions oblige us to take a second glance at how emotional and physical pain is interwoven in who we are.
Early Epigenetic Shifts
When thrust repeatedly into stress-inducing situations during childhood our physiological stress reaction shifts into overdrive, and we lose the ability to respond appropriately and effectively to future stressors. Not just over days or months, but decades later.
This is due to gene methylation, in which small chemical markers, or methyl groups, adhere to the genes involved in regulating the stress response. This reaction prevents these genes from doing their jobs. As the function of these genes is altered, the stress response becomes re-set on “high” for life.
With stress-response on “high alert” our bodies promote inflammation and disease. It can also cause us to be more prone to over-react to the everyday stressors of life, creating even more inflammation. In this process we are predisposed to a mass of chronic conditions, including:
- Autoimmune disease
- Heart disease
This has all been determined through further research.
Destruction of Default Mode Network
Inside each of our brains, a network of neurocircuitry, commonly called the “default mode network,” stays actively uniting parts of the brain associated with memory and thought integration. This network is always on stand-by, ready to help us to figure out what to do next.
Ruth Lanius is a neuroscientist, professor of psychiatry, and director of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Research Unit at the University of Ontario who stated:
“The dense connectivity in these areas of the brain help us to determine what’s relevant or not relevant, so that we can be ready for whatever our environment is going to ask of us,”
When facing childhood adversity and being habitually pushed into a state of fight-or-flight the default mode network starts to go offline so that it no longer helps to decipher what’s relevant, or what to do next.
According to Lanius, kids who’ve faced early trauma have less connectivity in the default mode network. Their brains don’t seem to enter that healthy stand-by state, and even decades after the initial traumatic patterns they may still have trouble reacting appropriately to the world around them and knowing what is important.
These are just two examples of how the concept of trauma literally rewiring the brain to react differently comes into play, which may seem like a huge let down, but the thing is these changes are not insurmountable obstacles.
Recovery in part means learning to get re-acclimated to the world and learning new coping mechanisms to help us combat the insufficient patterns we develop in our early lives. While ACEs may retrain the brain in unhealthy ways that are detrimental to the body, recovery doesn’t take brain surgery. At the end of the day we all have the capacity to retrain our brains and escape the stories we tell ourselves of our traumas, and build new paths to reconnect our minds with our life’s mission.
Mental illness, trauma and addiction quite often go hand in hand. The trauma we experience can contribute to the worst of our habits, but recovery is possible through effective trauma resolutions. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
I want to talk about an announcement truly significant as a deviation from the United States’ decades long War on Drugs, which has time and time again been referred to as a failed endeavor of epic proportions.
The president himself has questioned the efficiency of several policies, the nation seems divided at times, and now may have taken a drastic shift in general opinion on how to best handle the mounting drug issue in America.
So when House lawmakers voted Tuesday to strip $23 million from the budget of a besieged Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in favor of committing those funds toward a new agenda focused on awareness and intervention rather than aggressive pursuit and prosecution, it was an enormous alteration. Let me clarify, the House of Representatives chose to take money from the DEA and put that money toward other programs, so how is this changing the game?
Moving the Moneys
The money which once coursed through the veins of a forceful and antagonistic DEA strategy will now be transfused into the heart of the nation’s community initiatives. Some of the outlets the cash-flow will now be diverted to include:
- Community outreach programs
- Fighting police abuse
- Ending the DEA’s controversial bulk data collection programs
Lawmakers took to a simplistic voice-voting system, and the ‘I’’s had it! A tally of 4 amendments were approved for the fiscal year 2016 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill that would cut into the DEA’s deep pockets.
The outcome isn’t as surprising to some, as the DEA has been catching a lot of heat lately for a number of scandals, including:
- AllegedDEA-linked killings in Honduras in 2012
- Allegations of using National Security Agency resources to spy on U.S. citizens and thencovering it up
- Secretly trackingbillions of Americans’ international phone calls without warrants for decades and the using confidential informants
Not to mention the huge “sex-party” scandal that was gaining a lot of media attention, this was also said to be organized and funded using federal tax-payer dollars to purchase prostitutes.
- Amendment 1
Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro from Texas offered the first amendment moving $10 million from the agency’s salaries and expenses to the Department of Justice’s body camera program. Castro said,
“These additional resources will help increase law enforcement accountability, mend police-community relations, and improve the safety of cities and towns across America,”
In light of all the recent tragedies and controversies surrounding police shootings and accusations of police brutality, many suggest this shows that politics are moving in a direction of trying to acknowledge the issue and address the problem.
- Amendment 2
Tennessee Democratic Representative Steve Cohen moved for $4 million from the DEA budget to be used to increase funding for rape testing kits. On the House floor, Representative Cohen described trauma imposed upon victims of rape as
“compounded when they know that they’re assailants roam free and critical evidence remains untested.”
At face value this is another awesome ideal, promoting the decision to not only acknowledge but to address rape culture in America, and raise awareness while fighting to properly identify and imprison those committing such horrendous crimes.
- Amendment 3
A Democrat from California, Representative Ted Lieu offered an amendment that would allocate a whopping $9 million, taking directly from the DEA’s cannabis reduction and eradication program and assign the money toward initiatives aimed at helping victims of:
- Domestic abuse
- Child abuse
- Sexual assault
Lieu stated in an interview:
“We need to focus our resources where they are actually needed: standing up for children who have been victims of abuse and assault, not spending taxpayer dollars on going after people who grow marijuana plants in states that have legalized marijuana,”
The man does have a very good point. Especially considering thus far the federal government for the most part seems to be taking a hands-off approach with state marijuana laws, and in support of the idea that fighting drug abuse addiction starts at home with proper education and support for traumatized youths who are speculated to be at an elevated risk of using harmful substances.
- Amendment 4
Finally the 4th amendment on the list came from Representative Jared Polis, the Democrat from Colorado. This measure was designed to prevent the DEA and Department of Justice (DOJ) from using federal funds to engage in bulk collection of Americans’ communications records.
But wait… there’s MORE! The day after these 4 amendments were approved lawmakers also passed a number of other amendments to the same funding bill aimed at stunting DOJ’s and DEA’s ability to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana and industrial hemp operations. With legal marijuana quickly gaining ground, the amount of money it would cost to keep going with back and forth battles over these arrests would undoubtly drain the bankroll.
What isn’t surprising… the DEA declined to comment on the amendment votes.
So with all this money being taken away from procedures and policies that have been scrutinized as invasive and ineffective to ultimately be handed over to programs fashioned to distribute tax-payer money toward helping address public health and community issues, one can only wonder if this is one of the immense deviations we have been waiting for that would take us off the beaten path of drug wars and spy-games, leading us to a more socially conscious and forward-moving society.
Some may fear taking money from the DEA is taking the muscle out of the fight against the overdose epidemic, and this has yet to be proven true or false. I personally believe that the future of our country begins with our families and our communities, and that no real permanent change to these persistent problems can be obtained without resilience and support in our homes, and without compassion in our hearts, which is what these programs seem to be aimed at accomplishing.
The War on Drugs is changing, and the nation is turning toward more progressive and positive changes, and that includes offering more treatment for drug addiction. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and this week it may have just got a little brighter for everyone. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
In case you were still skeptical, social media has become a significant element of our society… definitely. We have evolved into a culture that circulates information and cultivates emotional and ethical responses based on the shares, likes and comments associated with our tweets, posts and pics. Social media has been credited with being both helpful and detrimental to depression depending on the context, and now there is another aspect of mental health that some suspect is being threatened by our threads.
A new study is suggesting that observing violent news events via social media can actually cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How much of an impact can our videos have, and could this be the beginning of a whole new brand of stress and trauma diagnosis?
Sharing Our Stress
Dr. Pam Ramsden from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bradford presented this concept back on Thursday May 7th 2015 at the Annual Conference of the British Psychology Society being held in Liverpool. Here Dr. Ramsden explained:
“The negative effects of exposure to other people’s suffering have long been recognized in roles such as professional healthcare workers. Various studies have documented the negative psychological reactions following indirect exposure to traumatized people called vicarious traumatization.”
This refers to incidences where individuals in several fields including healthcare professionals experienced trauma through others and ultimately were affected by that shared experience. Someone reliving their trauma and expressing it to another person can take a toll on that person. Hearing the grotesque and gruesome details can create a kind of second-hand shock and stress. Ramsden went on to say,
“Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives. In this study we wanted to see if people would experience longer lasting effects such as stress and anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorders from viewing these images.”
So when we see something brutal or violent happen online through videos, images and dialog we can still feel that impact, even though some have suggested we become disconnected from the images and words on the screen and dehumanize the victims, it appears this is not always the case.
Assessing the Trauma
189 participants around the age of 37 years old with an almost even equal number of men and women completed a few tests for trauma including:
- Clinical assessments for PTSD
- A personality questionnaire
- A vicarious trauma assessment
- A questionnaire concerning different violent news events on social media or the internet
The violent events used for this test included the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks, school shootings and suicide bombings. The details of the examination indicated:
- 22% of participants were significantly affected by the media events
- 1/4 of those who viewed the intense internet images scored high on clinical measures of PTSD
The fact that these individuals scored high on clinical measures of PTSD was a very concerning development considering that they experienced this level of stress despite:
- They did not have previous trauma
- They were not present at the traumatic events
- They had only watched them via social media
There was also an increased risk for those with outgoing, extroverted personalities. So those social butterflies that are more likely to share and comment were also those that could be more sensitive to the effects of being exposed to violent and graphic material on social media.
So by exposing ourselves to such extreme and foul content we are increasing the risks of PTSD, and possibly even creating a whole new brand of it. Extensive research into the trend of internet addiction and some kind of dependence on social media has already begun, as debates continue on the influence social media makes on depression.
So is it safe to assume that with all the sway social media has over us that we should be careful of all the distasteful and uncensored stories and depictions we take in?
Are we as a society overloading ourselves online with images and audio that intoxicate our anxiety and compound with our already rattled reasoning to create new levels of trauma?
What new methods of diagnosis and treatment could come from PTSD inspired by social media?
For now we should remember that the impressions these sites have are real for some people. Some have been oppressed by these unstable emotional ties to their online lives, while others have been liberated by the sense of connection. Whatever way you believe, your social media can change your mind if you let it.
An issue like PTSD is nothing to take likely, and mental health has a serious impact on the quality of life and possibility of recovery for anyone struggling with substance abuse issues. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135