Voices’ Blog

Children and the Opioid Epidemic

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Legislators from across the Commonwealth are recognizing the impact of the opioid epidemic in their communities. During the first week of Session Secretary Hazel presented on the impact of the opioid epidemic and the Administration’s response from Social Services, Health and Public Safety sectors (covered in the Richmond Times-Dispatch here). Strikingly the number of substance-exposed infants increased 21% over the past year with 1,334 substance-exposed infants identified by the VA Department of Social Services.

We are concerned for these young children who may get caught up in the opioid epidemic and maintaining their connections to strong and supportive families and safe community. Children who are the innocent bystanders to drug abuse are at-risk of future mental health issues, involvement in the foster care system, and a shaky educational future. These concerns place kids caught up in the opioid epidemic front of mind for Voices.

There are a couple of proposals under consideration focused on children caught up in family substance abuse issues. Our primary concern is that the best interest of these children is considered first and foremost.

Family assessment triggered for in utero substance abuse: HB 1786 (Stolle)/SB1086 (Wexton)- This bill would initiate a family assessment and plan of safe care from the VA Department of Social Services and Child Protection Services when an infant is identified as impacted by maternal substance abuse. Under current law, if a mother indicates she has sought substance abuse treatment our social services agencies are not required to provide follow-up. This bill would require a family assessment in those instances. Additionally, it requires reports of substance exposed infants, even when substance abuse involves prescription drugs, such as some opioids. Voices weighed in on this legislation, along with a number of other stakeholders, to work through the details as the impacted the best interests of children.

These bills have been conformed to be the same in the House and Senate and are continuing through the process. The Governor’s budget included funding for additional CPS and foster care services that could be impacted by this policy change.

Study of barriers to treatment for substance exposed infants: HB 2162 (Pillion)- This bill sponsored by a Delegate from Wise would establish a workgroup to review the barriers to treatment for substance exposed infants. We see this as a useful opportunity to look at resources and opportunities to maintain strong family connections for infants in families dealing with substance abuse. We would like this workgroup to include representatives such as home visitors, mental health clinicians, recovery specialists, infant mental health specialists, and others that specialize in both the physical and social health of the family.

This bill has passed the House of Delegates and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

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