The Ripple Effect: The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Families

Milbank State Leadership Network
Mental Health

Opioid addiction is well recognized as a national crisis, but its impact on children and adolescents whose parents are addicted has received little attention. A new report published by the United Hospital Fund (UHF), with support from the Milbank Memorial Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, makes clear that the magnitude of the epidemic’s impact is much greater than realized. Even if the opioid epidemic were stopped cold today, there would be damaging ripples far into the future.

Titled The Ripple Effect: The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Families and written by Carol Levine and Suzanne Brundage, the report is based on extensive research, interviews, and a literature review by UHF staff, as well as a two-day meeting hosted by UHF in October 2018 that brought together national and local experts in child development, family policy, addiction treatment, child welfare, and state and local government officials.

While previous reports have examined aspects of the impact on children, such as pregnant women who use drugs or the increased numbers of children who enter foster care, this is the first comprehensive look at the successive waves of loss and trauma experienced by newborns, young children, adolescents, and their families. It also looks at the needs of kinship caregivers, typically grandparents who often step in to care for these children.

The report lays out a blueprint for action aimed at public and private agencies and professionals. Four broad areas for action are identified, with detailed recommendations for each:

  • Reduce stigma and misunderstanding of opioid use and treatment
  • Make investing in a response to the ripple effect a priority
  • Ensure that government and private agencies work as a team
  • Identify children at risk as early as possible.

Recognizing the multigenerational impact of the opioid epidemic is one of the Reforming States Group’s focus areas this year.

Read the report