The real opioid victims: children of addicts

Across the United States the opioid epidemic is claiming victims few likely predicted as the initial victims.

The foster care system is becoming overloaded. Nationally, foster care cases involving parents who have drug problems have hit the highest point in 30-plus years of reporting. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted that roughly 92,000 children entered the system in 2016 — that’s driven by a 32 percent spike in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016.


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“We were very shocked, we weren’t expecting this,” said Angela Freeman, a grandparent turned adoptive parent.

Freeman and her husband became foster parents of twins Keagan and Kinsley after a call from the CPS. Freeman said the children were found essentially abandoned inside a hotel room in Warren, her son is now in jail on drug charges.

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She said it began a long road — she eventually became an adoptive parent, but after watching the foster care system first-hand she’s concerned that it’s overtaxed. Freeman noted their family worked with seven different case workers before they ultimately were able to adopt their children.

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“It’s a long road and there’s a lot of things I don’t think the general public is aware of when it comes to fostering, the agency and what you have to do to become a foster parent,” said Freeman.

Michigan is a unique outlier — as more and more kids’ parents fall victim to the opioid epidemic, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is working to avoid long-term foster care situations. Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson for the agency, noted that for multiple reasons they’ve worked with keeping children in-home with CPS involvement or pushed for finding children a permanent home more quickly. Still, they’re aware of the issues arising from opioids when it comes to Michigan children.

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“We are seeing many Children’s Protective Services cases that involve opioid abuse by parents, and we have a heightened awareness of these cases as opioid dependency has become a problem nationwide,” said Wheaton.

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That said, Michigan — like many states — doesn’t have hard data that shows specific numbers associated with opioids. It’s left states speculating how to handle an issue that appears to be growing, but by how much it’s hard to measure.

The Public Children Services Association of Ohio told ABC News that foster care cases are up roughly 3,000 over the same four-year span that opioid — in that same four years we’ve witnessed a nationwide spike in opioid deaths. If numbers continue the group has estimated that more than 20,000 children will be in foster care in Ohio by 2020 — there were 12,600 cases four years ago.

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Of course, each individual story brings its own pains.

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Freeman is now raising her grandkids as her own, but her family is also tracking another child through the court systems — while Keagan and Kinsley became success stories of the foster care system, their cousin found herself in the system after another one of Freeman’s children died of a drug overdose.

It’s not clear yet if that child will find her way back to Freeman, or any of her relative’s homes.

“This is part of my son that I lost,” said Freeman. “It’s the only extension of him that I have, and they’re taking her away from me and they’re considering letting that foster family adopt her — which is really, really sad when we have foster families in our own family close by that we’re close with. We don’t get to raise her. It’s very sad.”

If you suspect a family member, or friend, is dealing with an opioid addiction expert advice is available through the Families Against Narcotics group. The group was founded in Macomb County and has quickly grown throughout the state — you can learn more about options for help, here: http://www.familiesagainstnarcotics.org/.

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