Experts says Kentucky’s opioid crisis could create trouble for next generation

Photo by Christopher Doten

By Mark Vanderhoff | WLKY

Kentucky’s opioid crisis is causing enough trouble now, but it could create a second wave of problems in the future.

Experts told state lawmakers Wednesday that the children of people with substance abuse problems are more likely to abuse drugs themselves.

Kentucky has been focused on cutting off the supply of opioids and expanding treatment. Experts said the state also needs to focus on intervening with the children of those with substance abuse problems.

“Kentucky has significantly higher than the national average in terms of our youths adverse childhood experiences,” said Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health Dr. Allen Brenzel.

Brenzel told members of the interim joint committee on health and welfare that Kentucky’s opioid crisis is causing trauma for the children of addicts, which will likely cause new problems in the future.

In Kentucky, 14.4 percent of children have a parent with a substance abuse problem, versus the national average of 10 percent, according to a study Brenzel cited.

“If we’re going to fix this, what we’re going to have to do is figure out who these individuals are as youth and target our intervention and prevention programs,” Brenzel said.

Children whose parents have substance abuse problems are more likely to begin using drugs themselves and at an earlier age.

Bonnie Hedrick, with the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said Kenton County created a program called Core Life to identify those children.

“It is building relationships with counselors and teachers so they’re working more hand in hand in addressing those early intervention needs as soon. As those teachers see signs of adversity in that child’s life, an intervention can be made,” Hedrick said.

The current opioid crisis has made childhood drug education more important than ever, Hedrick said.

“We recognize that primary prevention is the long game. The investment we make now will pay off much later in life,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick said Kentucky has a good incentive to invest in children. She said every $1 invested in prevention is estimated to save $18 down the line in substance abuse problems.

The article is part of WLKY’s State of Addiction series.