“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Cincinnati, Ohio, March 2018: An emergency 911 dispatcher receives a call from a frightened 9-year-old girl. She’s in the back seat of an SUV with her father unconscious in the front passenger seat and her mother in and out of consciousness while driving, both under the influence of opioids. Luckily, responders got to the vehicle before anyone was hurt.

Unfortunately, calls like this one have become increasingly common. Calls from our nation’s children when parents stop breathing, pass out and don’t wake up or are already gone, to 911 continue to rise. As the opioid epidemic continues across the U.S., children are left orphaned or removed from a parent’s care because of opioid use in the home. The foster care systems in many states are overwhelmed and more than 2.5 million children are currently being raised by grandparents or other relatives.

The Opioid Epidemic: Numbers to Know

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in the U.S in 2016, of which 66% involved either prescription opioids or illegally made synthetic opioids. Investigations are still on-going and numbers still coming in for 2017, however, experts anticipate drug overdose deaths for the year to exceed 70,000. In South Carolina, the number of drug overdose deaths increased 20.5% from September 2016 through September 2017 from the previous 12 months.

The death rate has spiked because of the increase of illegally made synthetic opioids coming into the U.S. from Mexico and China, particularly Fentanyl. Fentanyl found on the streets is between 50 to 100 times stronger than pure heroin. Fentanyl is cheaper to produce and is being mixed with heroin or cocaine or completely replacing heroin, without the user or often the dealer, being aware. Of rising concern is carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and as much as 10,000 times more potent than morphine. A few grains absorbed through the skin is enough to cause death.

Opioid’s Orphans

While statistics on the exact number of children orphaned by their parents’ opioid overdose are unavailable, the number of kids being raised by relatives and the overburdened foster care system showcases the problem. Children of opioid users are also at risk in other ways, as opioid-related emergency room visits and ICU admissions have skyrocketed at hospitals across the country. Accidental overdose through breathing in airborne particles or even skin coming into contact with synthetic opioids make up the majority of these opioid-related hospital visits. Additionally, record numbers of babies are born every day addicted to opioids, resulting in painful withdrawals during their first days of life.

Many more children are not orphaned but are losing their childhood, forced into caretaker roles for younger siblings when addicted parents are too high or sick to care for their kids. Brain development is impacted in very young children exposed to extreme levels of toxic stress caused by parent drug use and neglect. The traumas these children experience put them at higher risk later in life for chronic illness, cancer and substance abuse themselves.

The children are the innocent victims of our nation’s opioid epidemic. If you are a parent and suspect your ex could be exposing your child to dangerous circumstances due to drug use, a private investigator can help you get the evidence you need to get custody of your child. And for grandparents and family members who suspect their young loved ones could be in danger, a private investigator can help you get the facts you need to protect the child(ren).