Opiates and the Foster System

The impacts of the opioid epidemic in America have been far-reaching. Every community, from the Northeast through the Midwest and the South, has been touched by opiate addiction in some way. The image that comes to mind for most people when they consider opiate addiction is young, middle class twenty-somethings scheming for drug money. What many people don’t see are the hidden victims of this crisis: children of addicted parents. As the opiate epidemic overwhelms communities, the foster system is being inundated with children whose parents are in active addiction and can’t care for them.

Opiates Impact on Foster System

When parents or caregivers are addicted to drugs, they are often unable to properly care for their children. Unfortunately, this means that many kids end up in the foster system if they don’t have any relatives who can care for them in the place of their parents. The opiate epidemic has stretched the foster system to its limit of resources, as more and more children need homes away from their addicted parents. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of children removed from their homes and placed in foster care grew 19% since 2010, in Vermont it grew 40% since 2013, and in West Virginia it grew 24% since 2012. The main reason for this huge growth in the number of children in the foster care system is opiates. In these three states, along with the rest of the Northeast and the Midwest, opiate addiction is rampant and affects every community. As young parents become addicted to drugs, their children are left uncared for, needing homes with relatives or in the foster care system.


Addiction can have devastating impacts on families, especially children. When parents are dependent on opiates or other drugs, they may be unable to keep a steady job. Paying bills, such as electricity and water, or putting food on the table, may become a struggle when the parents need narcotics to function. Children raised by opiate-addicted parents may not have the security children need to grow up physically and emotionally healthy. Recently, the addition of drugs like carfentanil and fentanyl to heroin have been causing massive overdoses and deaths in these communities. When a parent overdoses, the children are left to be cared for by a relative. If no relative is able to care for them, they end up in the foster system, which is running low on resources, such as foster parents, to care for the children of the opiate crisis.


Impact of Opiates on Families

The destructive nature of drugs and alcohol reach far beyond the addicts themselves. Family members of addicts and alcoholics often bear a lot of the pain and tragedy of addiction. For children of addicted parents, security and safety are never guaranteed, and basic needs are often not met. The tragic consequences of addiction for the family members include:


  • Anxiety and fear over their loved one’s safety
  • Being stolen from, or spending money to bail their loved one out of trouble with the law or out of debt
  • Being forced to take responsibility for the addict’s bills
  • Anger directed at the addict
  • Losing a loved one to jail or overdose


Loving an addict or an alcoholic can be painful, especially if they have young children whom they are unable to care for. Many times, relatives end up shouldering the burden of caring for the responsibilities that someone who is addicted to opiates cannot handle. Ultimately, without treatment and sobriety, the vast majority of opiate addicts will be unable to care for themselves or their children.

Steps to Recovery

The best chance any addict has at achieving long-term sobriety and being reunited with their family is to attend a treatment program to address their addiction. Most addicts and alcoholics need a detox program to safely remove the drugs from their system, after which they can enter into treatment with a clear head and no physical dependence. At the Discovery Institute, we specialize in treating addiction from every angle, focusing on addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse so that the addict can build a life of long-term recovery. Sobriety brings families back together, and it is available to any addict who wishes to get help today. If you are addicted to opiates and need help, call 888-616-7177.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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