Opioid overdoses linked to neighborhood-level child abuse


Neighborhoods with more opioid overdoses have higher rates of child protection investigations and confirmed cases of child abuse, a new study in Ohio finds.

While other research has found this link at the county level, this study is one of the few to examine the crisis at the neighborhood level, said Bridget Freistlerlead author of the study and professor of social work at Ohio State University.

“When you look at the county level, it’s very difficult for child welfare agencies and other groups to determine where they need to dedicate resources and target interventions,” Freisthler said.

“If we can identify particular neighborhoods as potential hotspots for opioid-related child abuse, we can prepare community-based interventions.”

Freisthler conducted the research with Nichole Michaels of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus and Jennifer Price Wolf of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, Calif.

The study was published in the January 2022 issue of the journal Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies.

Researchers studied 9,231 census block groups in Ohio, which were used as surrogates for neighborhoods. These census block groups covered nearly the entire state.

For each census block group, the team collected data from 2015 on the number of children referred for child abuse and neglect investigations, as well as the number of confirmed cases of child abuse. children.

They also looked at the rates of naloxone administration for each census block that same year. Naloxone is a prescription drug that emergency personnel use to treat people with an opioid overdose.

The results showed that higher rates of naloxone administration were linked to higher numbers of referrals for child protection investigations and confirmed cases of child maltreatment.

“There has been an increase in child abuse in recent years after decades of decline and this trend is likely related, at least in part, to the opioid crisis,” Freisthler said.

The link between naloxone use and child abuse was particularly strong in rural Appalachian counties, which may be due to their high poverty rates, she said.

The study found that highly disadvantaged neighborhoods – measured by levels of extreme poverty, among other issues – had particularly serious problems with child abuse.

“Appalachian counties already have depressed economies, which is a risk factor for child abuse and neglect in itself,” Freisthler said.

“If you add opiate use to that downside, it just compounds those risks.”

The findings suggest ways to help ease the crisis, she said.

Rapid response teams made up of professionals from public health, social work, medicine, emergency medical services and nursing could be deployed to neighborhoods experiencing high rates of overdoses to prevent further social problems.

The main message is that the child welfare system must work with professionals involved in managing the opioid crisis to address these interconnected social issues, according to Freisthler.

“The opioid crisis is still with us, although it may not be in the headlines as much,” she said.

“As long as we have this crisis, we will have to deal with more potential cases of child abuse.”

The research was funded by federal government grants children’s deskthe Centers for Disaster Control and Preventionthe Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services and the Victims of Crime Act Fund.

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