Home > Uncategorized > NH Taking Steps to Address the Impact of Opioids on the Children of Addicts

NH Taking Steps to Address the Impact of Opioids on the Children of Addicts

Today’s Valley News includes an article by AP writer Holly Ramer describing the ongoing deliberations in the NH House on a bill passed by NH’s Senate that “…would add a parent’s abuse of opioids or a baby’s diagnosis of drug addiction to the state’s definition of child abuse and neglect unless the parent was being treated for addiction.”

The House Committee reviewing this bill wants to eliminate the link between child abuse and addiction on the theory that such a linking would diminish a parent’s willingness to seek treatment for fear they would lose their child.

“The word on the street will be that DCYF will swoop in and take infants from their mothers shortly after birth if they’re not in treatment,” said Rep. Skip Berrien, D-Exeter.

Berrien and other members of the House Children and Family Law Committee on Tuesday recommended an amendment that would leave the definition of child neglect alone, but would give the division more leverage in court to use opioid abuse as evidence of neglect.

Under current law, DCYF can’t take actions such as overseeing supervision of children or placing them in foster care unless it can show actual harm resulting from the drug abuse.

The article later quotes the head of NH’s DCYF who notes that if a parent refuses treatment and insists their children aren’t impacted because the injections or consumption of opioids takes place outside the home their hands are tied. They believe that making the retention of a child’s custody contingent on seeking treatment is a better way to go than forcing the DCYF official to seek proof of “actual harm” to a child.

I wholeheartedly agree with DCYF’s perspective on this for several reasons:

  • A child exposed to a parent using drugs is ipso facto abuse and neglect. A parent who is addicted to opioids has one goal and one goal only: feeding their habit. Even if an opioid addict has the financial wherewithal to feed their child three square meals per day, the effect of opioid addiction is to diminish the attention they can pay to their child and the money going toward the opioids is not providing any well-being whatsoever to the child.
  • NH’s DCYF is underfunded and undermanned and, therefore, incapable of performing the kind of through analysis needed to “prove” that opioid use is creating actual harm. In NH, which stubbornly refuses to raise revenue through income or sales taxes is invariably operating in crisis mode when it comes to budgeting. Consequently their schools are funded inequitably, their social service safety net is tattered, and their physical and personnel infrastructure is deteriorating. Asking DCYF to take on additional work without providing additional staffing would set that agency up for failure, a set up that is already in place given the crushing effects of opioid addiction on child abuse and neglect.
  • Opioid addicts, like all drug addicts and alcoholics, will likely remain in a state of denial unless some kind of high impact shock occurs. It is the rare drug or alcohol abuser who abandons their use through self-awareness and sheer will-power. Most often addicts seek treatment to avoid paying a substantial fine, to avoid a prison sentence, or because they end up in a hospital bed or lose their job because the effects of their addiction. The threat of losing one’s child might serve as the impetus for a parent to seek treatment.
  • Treatment is the ultimate goal of the legislation. By making treatment the ultimate goal in this case, the legislature is effectively accepting the medical model for addiction and spending its scarce resources on restoring its citizens to good health instead of incarcerating them because of their illness.

Having lived in NH for the past 13 years and four years in the mid-1980s I know that if this bill is passed it will be underfunded and very challenging for DCYF, the police, and the courts to implement… and even more daunting for treatment facilities who are unlikely to receive the funds they need to provide the kind of long term treatment and after-care required to address additions. Nevertheless it is important to frame addiction as a disease, to acknowledge its unquestioned impact on children and families, and help those who are suffering from this medical problem. Kudos to the legislature for getting the debate on the correct plane.

 

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