The opioid crisis started in the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies convinced the medical society that the use of opioid pain relievers would not result in addiction. Hence, the rate of prescription of opioid painkillers by healthcare providers increased substantially. It consequently resulted in the widespread diversion and misuse of opioid medication until it was revealed that the use of those substances is highly addictive. Since then, overdose by opioids has been increasing from year to year. In 2017, the number of deaths from overdose by opioid medications reached more than 47000, including prescription of opioids, heroin, and illegally synthesized fentanyl. Moreover, misuse of opioid medications, such as pain relievers, resulted in disorders related to substance use in more than 1.7 million people in the USA (Opioid Overdose Crisis, 2021). The consequence of the opioid crisis is enormous and difficult to be estimated precisely. Children are the most vulnerable part of society, thus, the most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis.
West Virginia is the most affected state in terms of the consequences of the opioid crisis. In 2018, there have been 42.4 overdose deaths as the result of opioid misuse per 100000 people (Opioid Summaries by State, 2020). The result goes in correlation with the amount of prescription of opioids, 69.3 per 100 persons, which is also the highest among states (Gottlieb et al., 2018). Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS) are the main consequence of pregnant mother’s misuse of opioids. NAS is a set of conditions resulted from the use of drugs by the mother while the baby is in the womb. The consequences of the NAS include such short and long-term health problems as developmental, hearing, and vision problems, along with learning and behavior problems.
At a national level, the crisis of opioids is mainly spread in rural areas with poor economic conditions and poverty, which results in poor physical and mental well-being. Health access of such regions is limited with a high prescription rate of opioid medications. Children become the victims of the cyclic problem, which includes poverty leading to drug use and poor health condition. In turn, poor physical and mental conditions result in poverty as well. Children are being neglected and removed from their homes, mostly remaining without their parents permanently. One of the heartbreaking examples of opioid misuse is when a child dies due to starvation or thirst while the parent has overdosed. Even if some families reunite with their children, the practice shows that the children are going to face life-long health consequences due to initially being separated.
Moreover, children can be indirectly affected by the opioid crisis in several ways. Parents, who are addicted to opioids, have inadequate prioritization of family needs, not paying enough attention to their children’s needs. In order to prevent the negative consequences of the opioid crisis on children, health officials should inform parents how to prevent it. For example, a parent should explain to children all the risks of opioid drugs and that they should be used only with the prescription of a healthcare provider. Also, drugs and medicine should be carefully stored in a secure place, with attentive counting of the number of pills left. In addition, a public official should encourage parents to use opioids only when other alternatives are useless. If the child is taking opioids to manage the pain, parents should carefully keep track of their use to make sure that the dosage is as prescribed.
Gottlieb, J. D., Davies, T., & Wright, S. (2018). Healthy connections: Helping families in west Virginia combat opioid addiction. Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Web.
Opioid Overdose Crisis. (2021). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web.
Opioid Summaries by State. (2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web.