Shaquita Ogletree
Council for Strong America provided a Capitol Hill briefing on “Caring for the Youngest Victims of Our Nation’s Opioid Crisis.”

Congressman Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) discussed the fifty-eight bills that were passed by the House of Representatives in recent days along with an additional $4 billion for states and said the action was in the right direction. He remarked that the opioid crisis is connected to securing the borders specifically the Mexico border. The opioid epidemic has threatened public safety, impacted the workforce, and ripped families apart. The Council for Strong America released their report, Caring for Young Victims of the Opioid Crisis, that details the intersection of the opioid crisis and its impact on our nation’s children.
The panelist consisted of the former Congresswoman Mary Bono from California’s 45th Congressional district, Chief Ted Smith from Lincoln Police Department in New Hampshire, Leah Currey from Toyota Motor Manufacturing in West Virginia, and Julie Redding from Community Caring Collaborative in Maine.

In 2008, as a member of Congress, Mary Bono discussed the case of her son who became addicted to OxyContin at college and was comfortable with reaching out to his mom, whose father taught her early on that addiction and alcoholism is a disease. Ms. Bono has been a champion of substance abuse and addiction abuse for the past decade. Young children are unseen victims of America’s opioid epidemic. Parental substance abuse impacts children in many ways and effective early childhood programs are key to protective factors and well-being.

The two hardest hit states in America with the opioid epidemic are West Virginia and New Hampshire. In West Virginia, this crisis has cost approximately $8 billion in the last four years. As the second state with the highest rate of opioids death, New Hampshire has a unique perspective. Law enforcement, often first-responders, do not get the opportunity to follow up after an investigation or arrest on the outcomes of children or the family. The opioid epidemic is impacting the workforce and the ability of individuals to work. Many states efforts are focusing on a two-generation approach; however, Ms. Redding believes that we are looking at the third generation being affected by opioids.

In Washington County, Maine, one-third of children are living in poverty, health access is limited, and older adults are now impacted as well. The nearest neonatal abstinence unit in Washington County is two hours away. The Bridging Program in Washington County serves infants at high risk and babies born substance affected. Maine is considering using the program for all babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. The Bridging Program provides trained Infant and Family Support Specialist nurses that help parents with parenting skills to develop healthy relationships with their babies. The greatest investment for the opioid crisis is to support children early in life.

A central message of the briefing is that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis and that we need different approaches to effective combat this addiction. Each panelist shared the challenges of accessing treatment and the limitation of effective federal, state, and local efforts especially in rural areas. Law enforcement, child welfare, public health, and other stakeholders must work collaboratively to keep Congress focused on the needs of infants and children also affected by the opioid epidemic.