A new generation in America, Generation O, was explained in an article in the NY Times I recently read. The article (link below) was disturbing to me and made me question how we could help them.
The article describes Generation O as the children whose families are trapped in a relentless grip of addiction and rehab and often, death, as their parents struggle with opioid addiction. It describes how these children are struggling, too, often raising themselves and their siblings, on their own, without their parents. Living with grandparents and other family members, or in an ever-strained foster care system, Generation O is losing hope.
These children have seen their parent overdose and go to rehab over and over. They often fault themselves for not saving their parent from addiction. Others are made to feel guilty by their parent. Some have been abused - physically, sexually, or emotionally. School is often a retreat, a safe place where they get meals and clean clothes. They fear going home and finding their parent dead. Children living in these conditions are extremely stressed, traumatized.
It’s hard to for me to put myself in their shoes, to be young and living with such a heavy burden and such uncertainty for what lies ahead. I can empathize, but knowing how they feel and what they are coping with is hard to even imagine.
Generation O has another very sad statistic. Per the Center for Disease Control’s website, the number of babies born with opioid use disorder quadrupled in the last 15 years, from 1.5 per 1,000 deliveries in 1999 to 6.5 per 1000 in 2014 (the last year data is available.) That’s almost 26,000 infants born in the United states each year who will struggle because of their mother’s drug use during pregnancy. They often go through horrific withdrawal symptoms in the first days of their life and many have complications later in life, including developmental delay and speech and learning impairments.
Continued national, state, and provider efforts to prevent, monitor, and treat opioid substance use disorder among reproductive-aged and pregnant women are needed. Efforts might include improved access to data in Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, increased substance abuse screening, use of medication-assisted therapy, and more substance abuse treatment referrals.
Solutions to the damage to the children of Generation O are not easy. I hope awareness of their presence is a small start.
There are concrete solutions to the opioid crisis, though. In Heartbroken – Grief and Hope Inside the Opioid Crisis, my co-author Matthew Ellis suggests one important solution, Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT). Making MAT readily available to those with opioid substance use disorder is imperative.
MAT uses a combination of medications, counseling, and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. This treatment combination can lead to more favorable outcomes. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that only 17.5% of those suffering from the disease of substance use disorder actually receive treatment. While funding for treatment is a huge barrier, the stigma associated with entering treatment programs is also a hurdle (more about battling stigma in my next post.)
Adequate funding for treatment is a hurdle that our government must work to overcome. Letting our elected officials know how important that funding is can make a difference for all those suffering with the disease of opioid substance use disorder and their families. And to restore hope to the children of Generation O.
Here’s the link to the NY Times article:
We Lost Her, available at this link on Amazon.com
Heartbroken, available at this link on Amazon.com
Heartlinks Grief Center volunteer and Family Hospice board member
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