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Opioid epidemic is driving thousands of Florida children into foster care, study finds

Addiction to painkillers like oxycodone or morphine has contributed to more than just a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and health care costs, according to a new study authored in part by USF researcher Troy Quast. From 2012 to 2015, about 2,000 more children were placed into the state's foster care system because of prescription drug abuse, which amounts to an addition $40 million in state costs, the study found. [Times files]
Published Jan. 8, 2018

Add another negative consequence to the opioid epidemic's far-reaching impact: Prescription drug abuse is driving more children into Florida's foster care system, according to a new study from the University of South Florida.

The study, published in this month's issue of Health Affairs, shows that addiction to painkillers like oxycodone or morphine has contributed to more than just a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and health care costs, said Troy Quast, a USF researcher and the study's lead author. Quast analyzed the association between the rate of opioid prescriptions in Florida and the number of children removed from their homes due to neglect.

RELATED: As politicians pledge solutions to the opioid epidemic, advocates say the key will be money

He and his team found that two out of every 1,000 children in Florida were removed from their homes due to parental neglect from 2012 to 2015 — a staggering 129 percent increase over the three-year period. They also found that the number of opioids prescribed by doctors during the same three years rose 9 percent — from 72 prescriptions for every 100 residents in 2012 to 81 prescriptions three years later.

The information came from two major sources: data compiled by Florida's 67 counties and submitted to the federal government's Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, and the Florida Drug-Related Outcomes Surveillance and Tracking System.

Drug abuse is the No. 1 reason children enter state care, according to the Florida Coalition of Children, which advocates for the state's abused, abandoned, neglected and at-risk children. More than 60 percent of child removals were the result of substance abuse last year, nearly double what it was four years ago, the organization said in a news release.

In June alone, 553 children — nearly half the total for that month — were removed from their homes as a result of a parent's drug abuse or overdose.

"Substance abuse has always been a leading reason why children leave their families," said Mike DiBrizzi, president and CEO at Camelot Community Care, which facilitates foster care in the Tampa Bay region. He said the area is often among the top regions in the state when it comes to the number of children placed into foster care.

"It's been compounded by the opioid issue," he said. "And it's one of the hardest issues we have to deal with."

Quast said the research confirms what advocates like DiBrizzi are seeing every day.

"Personally, my family has been fostering a young girl for nine months or so, and we've seen firsthand the implications for many of these case workers," Quast said. "They are overwhelmed by the number of kids coming into the system."

According to USF's research, the prescription rate dropped by about 2.5 percent in 2013 because of a new state law regarding pain clinics and the introduction of the state's prescription drug monitoring program.

RELATED: Opioid, cocaine deaths on the rise statewide and in Tampa Bay, report says

But Quast described the rising rates of abuse as "dramatic." Some counties averaged about one opioid prescription a year for every three people, while others had as many as 1.5 such prescriptions per person each year. The highest rates were found in predominantly white counties, he said.

All told during the three-year period, roughly 2,000 more children were placed into the state's foster care system because of prescription drug abuse, USF found. The additional cost to the state: $40 million.

"Hopefully this open eyes, especially in Florida," Quast said. "For a while, I think people were seeing that this was happening anecdotally, but now there's some data to quantify it."

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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