Opioid crisis fuels rise in foster care numbers

RALEIGH — The opioid epidemic has devastated North Carolina families and driven thousands of children into foster care, according to a new report by NC Child.

Statewide, parental substance misuse was a contributing factor to children entering foster care in 39 percent of cases in 2016-17, a 50-percent increase since 2007-08. In Bladen County, 25 percent of children were in out-of-home care in 2016-17 as a result of parental substance misuse.

The report argues that unaffordable health insurance puts treatment out of reach for many struggling to overcome opioid addiction. Closing the health insurance coverage gap could give parents the prevention and treatment options they need to provide a safe, stable environment for their children.

“Substance use disorder is a tragic disease that can tear apart families and leave children without stable, nurturing homes. The opioid epidemic is driving this crisis to a new level in our state,” said Whitney Tucker, research director at NC Child.

Bladen County is better off than surrounding counties. Sampson County leads the region with 65 percent of foster children coming from parents who are battling substance abuse; in Robeson County, that number os 59 percent; in Columbus County it’s 43 percent; and, in Cumberland County, it’s 33 percent.

Access to affordable health insurance is playing a part in the equation.

Donald McDonald, executive director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, a statewide membership organization representing the interests of addiction professionals, described the importance of health insurance for those struggling with addiction.

“Addictions specialists see individuals daily who want to recover, but who don’t have access to adequate and appropriate services. We know what causes substance use disorder and we know how to treat it and we know people get better than well,” McDonald said. “But only 1 in 10 get the help they deserve. Meanwhile, drug overdoses have doubled since 2010. Closing the health insurance coverage gap would unlock the full spectrum of addiction care—prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery—which could make a substantial difference as we work to help North Carolinians find freedom and wellness.”

States that have closed the health insurance coverage gap are making progress. Kentucky, for instance, expanded income eligibility for Medicaid in 2014. As a result, that state saw a 700 percent increase in Medicaid beneficiaries using substance use treatment services.

HB662, Carolina Cares, is legislation sponsored by Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) that would create an affordable health insurance option in North Carolina for adults who currently earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to purchase private health insurance. While HB662 includes a work requirement provision that would likely keep some people struggling with substance use disorders uninsured, overall, the proposal would boost access to needed prevention and treatment services. HB662 is not likely to move in the 2018 legislative session, but a similar bill could be reintroduced in 2019.

“Closing the health insurance coverage gap won’t end the opioid crisis, but it’s a powerful strategy that we can implement immediately to help thousands of uninsured parents get the treatment they need to keep their families together,” said Tucker.