In his January 12, State of The Union address President Obama shied away from a list of specific policy proposals but he did single out a few areas including the drug use issue that is starting to rattle the foster care numbers. President Obama said, “Helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse” was one of the bipartisan issues on which he expects agreement can be reached in 2016.

The use of prescription drugs has led some people addicted to pain pills to switch over to the cheaper heroin and that would seem to be having its effect on foster care.  Foster care numbers had been decreasing for most of the past 15 years but in the last two AFCARS data reports numbers increased from 2012 to 2013 by approximately 3,500 children and by over 14,000 to 415,129 in 2014.  Those numbers are a year behind as they represent data from September 2014.  Some states have been hit particularly hard such as states in the Midwest and the New England area.  The topic is also being talked about by a wide range of news outlets from the nightly news broadcasts, to National Public Radio (NPR) to the Wall Street Journal.  Discussions have also been held in the primary states and members of Congress of both parties have shown concern.

Congress has also shown increasing interest.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sponsored a measure S. 799 (PL 114-91) — which was signed into law last year — that directs HHS to conduct some quick work to examine:

  • gaps in research, including research on the appropriate treatment of pregnant women with opioid use disorders and management of infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome;
  • long-term effects of prenatal opioid exposure on children;
  • the gaps, overlap, or duplication in substance use disorder treatment programs for pregnant and postpartum women; and
  • treatment program options for newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The bill/law asks for recommendations by HHS in regard to funding and examination of gaps, overlap, or duplication in Federal efforts related to education and prevention of neonatal abstinence syndrome and coordination of federal efforts to address neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Other legislation includes a bill by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), S 524,  the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015.  That bill would expand educational and prevention efforts, treatment services, alternatives to incarceration and several other strategies.

The omnibus appropriations provided $25 million to expand services that address prescription drug abuse and heroin use in high-risk communities.

The issue is a key focus for CWLA in much of its work taking place this year including at the annual conference in California later this year:  What Works for Families Affected by Substance Use , August 1 through 3 in Orange County, California.

The first 2016 Washington action may happen next month when the president releases his budget request on February 9.