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7/9/17blog post

how the opioid crisis impacts kids

By: Dr. Gregory Ramey

After a cervical neck operation many years ago, my doctor prescribed Percocet to deal with the post-surgery pain.  I wasn’t working for a few weeks and regularly took the drugs so I could get some projects completed at home.

My pain decreased after several days, but I continued to take the medication. For the first time in life, I understood how easy it was to get addicted to drugs. I refilled the medication one more time, even though it wasn’t needed, just to experience the sensations associated with this powerful drug.

I stopped the medication the weekend before I returned to my office. I had a wonderful family, great friends, and a super job. However, had my situation been less advantageous, I wonder what might have happened.

In a recent speech to parents, I mentioned a New York Times article that estimated that between 59,000 and 65,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.  I was a bit taken aback by the reaction, with several people dismissing this epidemic as a self-inflicted disease. “I’m going to save my compassion for people who can’t help what happens to them, not for drug addicts who intentionally choose to get high.”

If only life was so simple.

We’ve never seen an epidemic like this in the history of the country. Here’s what this means for kids.

  • Dead parents. What happens to the children when one or more parents die from a drug overdose?  The loss of a parent is one of the most devastating events that can happen to a child. The impact will resonate indefinitely.
  • Poor supervision. How can you care for your children when you are abusing drugs?  With less supervision and attention, our kids are more vulnerable to child abuse, neglect, and getting themselves into all kinds of trouble.
  • Poor role model. Most children are acutely aware of their parents’ drug issues. They tend to respond in one of two ways. Some kids take on a supervisory role, trying to be sure that things remain as normal as possible. Others go to the opposite extreme, doing anything to stay away from home so as to avoid dealing with their drug-addicted parent.
  • Family turmoil. Drug problems cause chaos in families. Kids tell me about the intense anxiety of coming home and never knowing how your parent will act.
  • Sick babies. Infants born to drug-addicted moms enter the world with problems that may continue throughout their lifetimes.

I know there isn’t a simple or single answer to this opioid crisis. If you care about kids, we’ve got to do something more than dismiss this epidemic as a self-inflicted problem. 

Gregory Ramey, PhD., Executive Director

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