The Journal Gazette
Monday, February 05, 2018 1:00 am

Opioid use breaking up families

Report shows drugs top reason kids removed from homes

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The opioid epidemic is expanding to affect the children of people who use the drugs, according to the Indiana Youth Institute.

The 2018 Kids Count Data Book released today by the Indianapolis nonprofit says more children are being removed from homes where parents are drug users. According to the institute, of the total number of children removed from homes by the state Department of Child Services, 52.2 percent were removed because of parental drug or alcohol abuse in 2016. 

The number, which the report ties to opioid use, jumped again last year to 58 percent, institute officials said.

The percentage has risen each year since 2013, when it was 31.7 percent. 

The topic is one of many included in the Kids Count report, the institute's yearly profile of Indiana children's well-being. The 115-page report includes data from state and federal agencies in five areas – family, economy, education, health and safety.

The report's health section includes statistics on the number of drug overdose deaths (1,518 in 2016) and the percentage of children who have lived with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem (about 10 percent).

The Kids Count report says 89 of the state's 92 counties have reported an overdose death from heroin or opioids in the past five years.

An unrelated report released Thursday by a group tapped by Gov. Eric Holcomb to evaluate the agency also noted an increase in child removals from homes because of drug and alcohol abuse.

Tami Silverman, the institute's president and CEO, said those who gathered data for the report talked with DCS workers who confirmed the link between opioid use and the removal of children from homes.

“They had no qualms saying this is due to the opioid crisis,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the state department did not return messages seeking comment.

Of the 785 opioid overdose deaths statewide in 2016, 17 were in Allen County, according to data from the Indiana State Department of Health. Most of those were men age 25-34, the data show.

The statistics on opioids and the effects of the drugs on families were no surprise to some local health experts. Doctors and public health professionals at the city's two major hospitals – Lutheran and Parkview – said they have seen an increase in recent years in the numbers of patients who have used opioids.

They said babies born to mothers who have used the drugs also has become more common.

“We've seen a pretty big increase in the number of infants born when their moms have been using opioids,” said Dr. James Cameron, a neonatologist with Northern Indiana Neonatal Associates, a group that serves Lutheran.

Cameron said working to identify and treat mothers and children in that situation will help stave off future problems, including health issues and children being removed from homes.

Chuck Clark, senior vice president for Parkview's Behavioral Health Service, said opioid use affects more than the person using the drugs. It can lead to grandparents taking over parenting duties and government action to remove children.

“What we're seeing with the opioid addiction is how fast people spiral out of control, and the devastating effects on families,” he said.

Patti Brahe, vice president for Women's and Children's Services at Parkview, and Silverman said a key to solving the opioid problem is honest, open discussion among stakeholders in the community.

“We need to be talking about these things right now,” Silverman said.

Brahe also said Parkview has seen a rising number of mothers who have used opioids.

“The way to get it to go down is we work together as a community,” she said. “I don't see it going down right now.”

Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan has called the opioid fight one of the biggest challenges of her career and also has brought teachers, judges, social workers and others together to discuss children's issues. City and county officials in recent weeks also have filed lawsuits against the makers and distributors of opioid drugs.

A spokeswoman for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department said McMahan was out of the office last week and unavailable for comment.

Other highlights from report

• Indiana ranks 41st worst among states on infant mortality. In 2016, 623 infants died in their first year. In Allen County, 43 died in their first year.

• Some Indiana students are improving on reading and math standardized tests. Fourth-graders are more likely to be proficient in reading than their peers nationally. Eighth-graders are more likely to score at or above proficient in math.

• The child poverty rate fell to 19.5 percent, but the state still ranks 31st worst for the percentage of children living in poverty.

• Indiana is home to the nation's 15th largest population of children. In 2016, 1.5 million children younger than 18 lived in the state. 

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