Opioids are overloading the foster care system

Last year in Virginia, more than 11-hundred Virginians lost their lives to opioids and experts say the problem is affecting our foster care system.

VIRGINIA (WVEC) -- Last year in Virginia, over 1,100 Virginians lost their lives to opioid abuse, and experts say the problem is affecting our foster care system.

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration says a rising number of children are being removed from homes across the country where caretakers are accused of using opiates. Lawmakers and experts are rushing to find solutions.

“The opioid epidemic is really a national crisis, and it is touching so many families all across our country including right here in Virginia,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said.

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According to the CDC, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose. But even more troubling--these numbers are affecting some of the most vulnerable.

“Last year in 2016, almost 800 babies were born in Virginia exhibiting withdrawal symptoms,” Herring said.

Making the problem worse, experts say they’re seeing a shortage in foster parents and homes.

“Anecdotally, our local agencies tell us that they have a more difficult time recruiting foster families,” Director of the Virginia Department of Social Services Carl Ayers said.

13News Now pulled the data for Virginia, which shows that the number of children in the foster care system has actually decreased over the years. But more and more children in Virginia are being pulled from homes because their parents are using drugs. That number has increased by almost 20 percent over the last 10 years.

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“It's quite challenging for the foster parent. Many times the children cry incessantly—you’re unable to soothe them, and they really struggle in the beginning of their lives,” Ayers said.

Virginia doesn’t break the numbers down by specific drug, but experts know that opioid abuse is a growing problem in the state and efforts are being made to combat the epidemic.

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“We got new laws passed that are putting naloxone which is a drug that reverses the effects of overdose almost immediately into the hands of first responders. We have got the Good Samaritan law passed to encourage those in the presence of someone having an overdose to call 911 and stay for help,” Herring said.

This year, the VDSS put together a substance abuse exposed infant workgroup. The expert team has been going around the state, conducting town halls in Portsmouth, Richmond, and Winchester. Next week, they’re hitting Abingdon and Roanoke--gathering as much information they can from each region. They’ll compile a report, then take their findings to the general assembly.

While moves have been made in the legislative system to fight the epidemic, experts say the solution is far more comprehensive. Enforcement, Education and Prevention are also key.

“We’re bringing medical professionals together along with law enforcement, community advocates, to drive community-oriented solutions to this. But it's really something we all have to work on together. Everybody's got a role to play,” Herring said.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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