To Protect Illinois Children from the Opioid Epidemic, Early Intervention is Key
A guest blog by Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley
This spring, I joined over 100 Illinois police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors to sign a public statement from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids about the impact that opioid use and addiction have on families in our communities. In this statement, we discussed how young children are greatly affected by this epidemic, particularly kids born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). Furthermore, we urged that resources from a recent settlement of lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of opioids should be used to help young children impacted by opioid use. This is an issue I care deeply about—both as a State’s Attorney who is acutely aware of the toll that the opioid crisis has on members of my community, and as the father of a child who has been personally impacted by opioid use.
My wife and I are the proud parents of three children, ages 12, 10, and 2. Our youngest, Eloise, joined our family as a foster child back in 2020 before we adopted her last November. Although these days Eloise is a thriving, happy toddler, she had a difficult start in life as a baby born with NAS to an opioid-addicted mother. We’d previously fostered two babies long-term and provided respite care to other children. We decided to keep fostering with the intention of one day adopting, which is how we came to meet Eloise.
We knew right away that Eloise was meant to be a part of our family, but that she would face many challenges as a baby with NAS. Her biological mother was able to enter a hospital prior to Eloise’s birth, and this allowed her to receive treatment that reduced the likelihood of complications. However, Eloise still arrived in the world with a low birthweight, which is common among babies with NAS, and was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She likely will also experience speech and developmental delays as she gets older and will likely need access to special care and treatment throughout her life.
I know there are many other babies out there like Eloise, and many families who need access to treatment and prevention resources to improve parents’ own health and ensure the future health of their children. In these cases, the earlier an intervention happens, the better off the family will be in the long run. I also understand that trying to address all of the problems created by the opioid crisis can seem incredibly daunting, which is why I think we often need to determine what is the most immediate problem a family is facing and how we can help. “Micro interventions” can be very effective, and, once you have addressed the most pressing concerns, you can determine how best to proceed to solve more problems. Other law enforcement leaders agree with the idea that early interventions are key. That is why police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois have long supported home visiting programs that provide support and coaching to new and expecting parents. These programs—with names such as Healthy Families, Parents Too Soon, and Nurse Family Partnership—ensure babies have what they need to stay healthy and get the care they need, and can direct parents struggling with opioid addiction to treatment resources. That’s why Fight Crime’s public statement specifically asks that some of the $760 million in lawsuit-settlement proceeds be used for treatment and prevention programs like home visiting that will help protect kids and help addicted parents get treatment. Another good destination for some of this funding: Early Intervention services that provide speech, occupational, physical and other therapies for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities or delays.
I am grateful that the Winnebago State’s Attorney Office, under the leadership of my predecessor, was one of the entities that initially brought these lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors several years ago. Moreover, my wife and I are so grateful to have Eloise as a member of our family. We know that she will need special care throughout the early stages of her life but are glad that we are able to provide her with a happy home and access to the resources she needs. My hope is that, by working to support early interventions for families affected by opioid use, fewer babies will have to face the impacts of NAS and the challenges that Eloise and our family know so well.