Any Assumption That More Opioid Prescribing Leads to More Child Removals Is Unjustified, Stats Show

    State rates of child removals due to “parental substance abuse,” 2010-2015.

    Credit: Troy Quast, PhD, University of South Florida


    Child removal from households due to a parent’s opioid use varies widely by state, according to a recent study from the University of South Florida.

    Associate Professor of Public Health Troy Quast compared the rates for all child removals, removals associated with “parental drug abuse,” and opioid prescriptions between 2010 and 2015 across the US.

    Quast found that the association between child removals and opioid prescription varied widely, sometimes by 30 percent. He concluded that there is no cohesive overall relationship between those two variables.

    In 23 , increases in opioid prescription rates were associated with increases in the child removal rate. For instance, in California, a 10 percent increase in the county average prescription rate was associated with a 28 percent increase in the child removal rate. But by contrast, in 15 other states, the association was flipped: Increases in the opioid prescription rate were associated with decreases in the child removal rate. Quast believes that higher opioid prescription rates in some states may be associated with lower levels of illicit opioid consumption, thus leading to fewer removals.

    West Virginia had the highest rate of child removals due to “parental substance abuse” in the time period studied; California, New England and the Mid-Atlantic had some of the lowest rates.

    The absence of what the study terms an “obvious narrative to describe the relationship” between child removals and opioid prescribing levels challenges the stereotype that drug use destines a child to be removed from a household.

    Removals are at the discretion of each state, per its definitions and regulations. The high level of discretion makes it difficult for parents to know what to expect if they want to access treatment. Sometimes, even the mere accusation of drug use has been enough to see kids taken away from their parents.

    Even though rates of child removal due to opioid use vary widely, the population of kids in foster care has steadily increased since 2010.

    As overdose deaths continue to soar, it would make sense to invest in resources to help parents access treatment for addiction while being able to care for their children. Taking more and more kids away from their families is inherently harmful, and the threat of removal discourages parents from seeking help.

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