Vermont's Opioid Addiction: A Family Crisis

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Vermont’s opioid addiction has deep effects that filter from the individuals who are struggling with the addiction down to their spouse, children, friends, and other loved ones. Family bonds can be broken or irreparably damaged. It’s an epidemic that has impacted millions across the United States.During a 12 month period, ending in November 2017, a reported estimate of 69,948 lives nationwide were lost due to overdose, making it one of the most serious overdose crises the country has ever had to face. The impacts of opioid addiction in Vermont alone saw 101 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Yet, Vermont is one of the few examples of states where that rate is decreasing due to the state’s proactive view of providing accessible opioid use treatment for their citizens in need of service.

It helps to explain the overwhelming impact that an opioid addiction poses on one’s family to begin to understand the seriousness that the addiction presents for everyone involved. Here are a few key points to demonstrate how opioid addiction impacts families.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Vermonts-Opioid-Addiction-GrandparentsDue to the opioid epidemic, more and more grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Grandparents are putting themselves in the roles as parents once more, and many of these grandparents are raising children due to their parents’ opioid addiction. This creates a hardship for grandparents who may be on a fixed income or hadn’t planned financially to be in this situation. About six percent of Vermont’s population are households where grandchildren are living with their grandparents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. This places a financial and emotional burden on older individuals who are trying to help raise their grandchildren amidst the trauma that the family may be going through.

Children Turned Over to Foster Care

When the government gets involved, children often get placed in to the foster care system. In fact, the opioid epidemic has been the greatest cause for an increase in children being placed in foster care. Moreover, the children being admitted into the foster care system are getting younger and younger. From children left in car seats to opioid-addicted babies, children are being taken in by the thousands every year across the nation. The number of young children, including toddlers and babies, that were taken into custody by Vermont’s child protective system increased by 75 percent between 2014 and 2015. The opioid epidemic has even overwhelmed the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in Vermont by increasing call volume by nearly 30 percent between 2012 and 2016 and resulting in 927 families with children in the custody of DCF by 2017.

Broken Relationships

An opioid addiction can also break family bonds. Much of this is due to individuals with an opioid addiction who may lie to a loved one, steal from them, or become verbally or physically abusive to get what they need to support their addiction. Trust is broken, making it difficult for family members to feel safe around the individual struggling with the addiction. Without the proper support, family members and friends may easily become discouraged and feel as if they have nowhere to turn. These friends and family members may even reach the point of disconnecting from those who have an opioid addiction only to leave them fighting their battles alone.

Trauma Exposure

Children are often exposed to trauma when a parent or family member is struggling with an opioid addiction. Whether it’s dealing with neglect, witnessing verbal abuse or even watching parents overdose, children often are exposed to these life-altering events that can adversely impact their lives, including leaving them wondering what they could have done to avoid the situation or keep it from happening. Even once family bonds are mended, there is the possibility of relapse. Relapse can adversely impact a child who ends up experiencing trauma all over again. Processing and dealing with traumatic events is challenging without proper support.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that the impact opioids have on a family can last a lifetime if left unchecked. However, with the proper support of treatment and counseling, those who are struggling with an opioid addiction can recover, avoid breaking family bonds and work to keep their family together.

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