Children of parents who struggle with opioid addiction are often called the “hidden victims” of the epidemic. But the adversity that these children suffer is real—and at a time when community resources are stretched thin from the efforts to prevent and treat overdoses, the mental and physical health needs of this population have largely been ignored.
On Tuesday, April 23, Loraine Swanson Lucinski, Shai Fuxman, Heidi Kar, and Gisela Rots will shine a spotlight on the issue during “Caring for the Hidden Victims: Strategies to Support Children and Youth Exposed to Opioids,” a panel conversation at the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. The summit is one of the largest gatherings of public health workers, researchers, and policymakers dedicated to ending the opioid crisis in the United States.
Lucinski, a maternal and child health expert at EDC, says that the panel conversation is especially relevant now because “there are more and more babies being born addicted to opioids,” and into homes where opioid misuse occurs.
In 2014, for example, 32,000 infants suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is similar to opioid withdrawal symptoms in adults. Thousands more children also experience adversity from living with someone who misuses opioids, losing a caregiver to an overdose, or being removed from their home due to a caregiver’s addiction.
These early experiences can leave a mark. Children who have experienced opioid-related adversity often exhibit behavioral and academic challenges at school and are at an increased risk for developing substance misuse disorders themselves later in life.
But Lucinski says that a number of interventions are showing potential for helping children confront and manage adversity. And that’s where she wants to focus—not on the struggles of children affected by the opioid crisis, but on proven strategies that caregivers, home visitors, and educators can use to help these children develop the resilience they need to live healthy lives.
“We are beginning to understand that this is an issue that is impacting moms and kids,” says Lucinski. “But we don’t know what will happen to these kids as they grow older. This is an opportunity to figure out what to do and how to help them.”