We see the controversial the pictures. We hear the heartbreaking stories. We talk about the opioid crisis stealing lives as it sweeps across our nation. We confront the broken promises of politicians who claim they'll fix it when their proposed solutions might actually make things worse. We must ask ourselves now, who are the real victims of this crisis?
The Substance Abuse Shuffle
Oftentimes, children of addicts are lost in the shuffle. They find themselves hanging out with mommy's and daddy's "friends" one evening; perhaps, they've found refuge with family who long gave up hope of the parents' recovery; or worse yet, they're lost to in the foster care system, sleeping in houses that never really become home. The number of children in foster care has seen a dramatic jump since 2012. Sadder yet, these are quite possibly the best case scenarios. One baby in Pennsylvania died from starvation after the parents overdosed.
Broken Policies, Broken Lives
Opioids are the primary cause of such destruction across middle America. More than half the states in this country have seen increases in abuse of heroin and painkillers; but bipartisan bills that could make an impact rarely pass through the senate. Now with the Affordable Care Act on the line, it looks like real solutions, like mental health and drug treatment, as well as healthcare subsidies, may not provide the safety net addicts and their children need.
Children are further victimized by budget cutbacks. States like Texas house children state offices and other temporary shelters. Child welfare spending is already in decline; but when the money is there, it's put toward programs that don't benefit these children who so desperately need help and a safe place to sleep. Many of the children who end up in group homes would be better placed with one foster family. Politicians, however don't keep up their end of the bargain in ensuring this happens.
To ensure that a foster care crisis--like the one we saw during the crack-cocaine epidemic--doesn't repeat itself, we need to see a consistent and appropriate public safety response. We must hold politicians accountable to their promises to our children. It shouldn't be just a promise that sounds pretty on the campaign trail.
We must ensure better mental health and recovery options to parents who seek recovery and desire to provide a stable, drug-free home. We can't be complacent when children are witnessing their parents' early demise due to heroin or prescription painkillers. There is no solace in a broken mental health and foster care system that only serves to perpetuate the cycle of substance abuse and addiction.
Numbers and facts don't lie. We know addiction is a disease that touches everyone around it. The assault on children is horrifying, but fixable with concerted effort and the implementation of smart, sustainable policy. The children who are today victims of this epidemic can also be tomorrow's survivors. They can contribute to, and in fact be the foundation of a nation that ends the vicious cycle and epidemic of addiction.
By Alex Cruzatt
Alex Cruzatt loves food and words and hates cliches. That being said, she lives in the City of Angels with her husband, a dog, and a bird.
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