Letters to Lawmakers | June 21, 2018

Letter to Congress: Support the Youngest Victims of the Opioid Crisis

1,330+ police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors & violence survivors underscore the importance of programs and services for children of addicted parents

The following letter was sent to all members of the United States Congress. It was signed by more than 1,330 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors across all 50 states. The signers urge Congress to prioritize funding for programs and services that support infants and toddlers impacted by the opioid crisis.

June 21, 2018

To All Members of Congress:

We are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization comprised of more than 5,000 law enforcement leaders. As chiefs of police, sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys general and violence survivors, we represent and serve communities across every state in our nation. On the front lines of the opioid epidemic, we have witnessed the pain and suffering people are experiencing, and we know we cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic.

The 42,000 people who died of an opioid overdose in 2016 are victims of this epidemic, but the children being raised amidst this epidemic are also victimized by the scourge of opioid and heroin abuse. That is why we urge Congressional action on behalf of a particularly vulnerable population—infants and children. We applaud the recent increases in funding for the opioid epidemic through the FY18 Consolidated Appropriations Act and the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century CURES Act. As Congress considers additional opioid legislation, we need more evidence-based programs that address the short and long-term challenges of addiction and we urge you to prioritize funding for infants and children affected by opioids.

High-quality early care and education programs—home visiting, child care, Head Start, and preschool—can serve as a powerful two-generation method of helping families affected by the opioid crisis. Research has shown that these programs promote several aspects of healthy child development, helping kids do better in school, get along with others, and avoid behavior problems. By working with parents as well as children, the programs can improve parenting skills and assist parents in providing more stable and nurturing environments for their children. Existing early childhood programs and policies can be used, expanded, and enhanced to serve as powerful tools in battling the opioid crisis and mitigating its negative impact on young children.

We must work collaboratively with public health, child welfare, education and other sectors to support evidence-based programs that address the short and long-term challenges of addiction and get children and adults on track for productive lives.

Every fifteen minutes, a baby is born suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a withdrawal syndrome caused by in utero exposure to drugs of dependence. Given the recent rise in opioid use, the current figure for NAS is likely even higher. These babies suffer from heartbreaking symptoms at birth and require intensive costly care. Unfortunately, the best practices for treatment and the long-term effects of NAS remain largely unknown, and further research around NAS is critical to better understand and provide positive outcomes for this vulnerable population.

Recovering from withdrawal is just the first of many challenges these babies often face. The law requires that infants with prenatal substance exposure who are born at a hospital should have a “plan of safe care” developed collaboratively with medical professionals, child welfare, substance abuse treatment agencies, and other community partners to ensure the family is connected to needed services and kept intact when possible. Although CARA took steps to strengthen the requirement, plans of safe care through the Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act (CAPTA) have been chronically underfunded for many years and need additional resources.

Additional supports are also needed for the approximately 70 percent of women who enter substance use disorder treatment who have children. Funding for programs like the Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women grants, authorized through CARA, offer states resources to help mothers with substance use disorders access the help they need and better provide their children the care they require. Increased funding for grants like these is critical to helping meet the burgeoning number of mothers and children suffering from the opioid epidemic.

Research has shown that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as having a parent who abuses substances, can induce toxic stress, which impairs brain development. According to data from Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the number of ACEs a child is exposed to increases, so does the risk of later negative health and well-being outcomes such as poor academic achievement, alcohol and illicit drug use, or attempted suicide. In order to break this generational cycle of drug use and abuse, we support evidence-based, trauma-informed practices for law enforcement, educators, mental health counselors and other professionals who may come into contact with a child suffering from ACEs as a result of the opioid epidemic. We support additional resources to bring these programs to scale and to promote solutions that better integrate trauma-informed practices into existing programs.

We know that the law enforcement community alone cannot, and will not, stem the tide of this epidemic. We must work collaboratively with public health, child welfare, education and other sectors to support evidence-based programs that address the short and long-term challenges of addiction and get children and adults on track for productive lives. We cannot let a generation of affected children grow up without addressing the trauma to which they’ve been exposed. We are thankful for the work that Congress has done to address this issue, and we urge lawmakers to ensure any upcoming legislation includes a focus on the needs of infants and children affected by the opioid epidemic.

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