Congressional Briefing: Supporting Opioids Young Victims
Leah Curry and Police Chief Ted Smith describe the long term impacts of the opioid crisis on public safety and the future workforce
On June 27, 2018, Council for a Strong America released its new report,“Caring for Young Victims of the Opioid Crisis,” and hosted a Congressional briefing in conjunction with the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force.
The briefing focused on how the opioid epidemic has seriously compromised the strength of our nation: threatening public safety, impacting the workforce, and tearing families apart. Parental substance abuse is a significant Adverse Childhood Experience that can impact a child’s health and wellbeing throughout life. The panel discussion highlighted how high-quality early care and education programs can offer a powerful approach to helping children impacted by the opioid crisis.
Congressman Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), a member of the Task Force, drove home the pervasiveness of this issue across the United States and in his state of Maine during his remarks at the briefing. “I do not know a family that has not been touched by this scourge,” he told the audience.
Former U.S. Representative Mary Bono, a member of Council for a Strong America’s Senior Policy Council, moderated the panel. She shared her personal experiences with the opioid crisis at the briefing, including her son’s battle with substance use disorder.
My life, since 2008, has revolved around being the parent of a child with a substance use disorder.
Hon. Mary Bono (R-CA)
The speakers on the panel included Fight Crime: Invest in Kids member Chief Ted Smith of Lincoln, New Hampshire; ReadyNation member Leah Curry, President of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia Inc;, and Julie Redding, Clinical Director of the Community Caring Collaborative in Washington County, Maine.
New Hampshire, the home state of Chief Smith, has the second-highest rate of opioid-related overdoses in the United States. Smith recalled his time as a detective with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, describing the effects of parental substance use disorder on children and urging that a difference can be made through home visiting and Head Start programs.
Investing up front in high-quality education and care programs can put at-risk children on the road to success.
Chief Ted Smith, Lincoln Police Department, NH
Leah Curry described the impact of the opioid crisis on America’s economy and future workforce. In the past four years, the crisis has cost West Virginia $ 8 billion, a figure that is crippling for the local economy. In the age of new technology and autonomous vehicles, the next generation will need access to high-quality early learning and care programs that adequately prepares children for success in school, work, and life. Curry also shared her personal experiences of seeing the long-term effects of childhood trauma in her adopted daughter. The first five years of life are a crucial time for brain development; neural pathways are forming at a rate of one million neural connections every second. Children experiencing trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) during this time will exhibit negative long-term effects, and may be more likely to have negative health outcomes as they get older.
There is nothing that compares to that time [zero to five years], for what we can do to help our kids develop.
Leah Curry, President, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia Inc.
Julie Redding explained the profound impact that being born drug-affected or growing up with a parent who has a substance use disorder can have. Redding stated, “This newest generation has never known a life where drugs didn’t affect them in some way.” Redding also pointed out how difficult it can be for rural communities to access treatment, noting that the closest neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is over two hours away.
Children who have experienced more ACEs have a brain that is wired completely different than children who have not experienced trauma.
Julie Redding, Clinical Director, Community Caring Collaborative
While they were on Capitol Hill, the panelists also met with Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
Senators Manchin and Capito recently introduced the “Handle with Care Act,” a bill that would address substance-use related trauma in children and youth by connecting law enforcement officers with schools, and allowing school officials and teachers to be trained in trauma-informed care.
Julie Redding pointed out that these programs are critical because one of the best preventive steps against ACEs are “positive nurturing relationships with an adult.” As such, many adults in children’s lives will need training and resources to support kids through this public health crisis. Chief Smith noted that “just like our law enforcement officers need life-saving Narcan, teachers need resources to support students whose parents struggle with addiction.”
The opioid crisis claimed over 42,000 lives in 2016, and continues to create countless victims. For the public safety and prosperity of our nation, we must address the suffering of our next generation through critical investments in early learning and care programs. As Rep. Poliquin noted, “we can never give up. It’s our responsibility as Americans. It’s our responsibility as human beings.”