The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effect On Our Children, Economy / Redistricting Update / Join Rep. Coleman & Texas Tribune in Houston 1/23

The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effect On Our Children, Economy

I was selected by Texas House Speaker Straus to be a member of the Select Committee on Opioid and Substance Abuse this interim. My fellow committee members and I will address issues involving substance abuse throughout the state.

Last interim, the House Committee on County Affairs that I chair found that 2/3rds of  Child Protective Services (CPS) removals stemmed from a substance abuse issue within the home. This shows the direct correlation between this epidemic and children in foster care.

To begin to address this issue I added a rider to the Texas Budget that makes parents who suffer from substance abuse and have children in the foster care system a priority population for Texas’ Health and Human Service Commission.

I also got the ball rolling on expanding Family Drug Courts across Texas. Family Drug Courts allow for children to stay in their homes with their parents while their parents gain the skills to be better parents and overcome their substance abuse.

Below you will find two articles addressing the opioid epidemic:

  • First, you can read a recent opinion piece from the New York Times regarding substance abuse and its effect on children. Or, click here to read.
  • Second, you can read a recent piece from the Houston Chronicle regarding opioid abuse and its effect on our economy. Or, click here to read.

The Opioid Plague’s Youngest Victims: Children in Foster Care


Our stunning failure to care for our most vulnerable children is a cause and devastating consequence of the opioid crisis that is ravaging towns around the country. We can’t end the crisis — or a host of other problems — until we fix our beleaguered child welfare system.

As more Americans struggle with opioid addiction and find themselves unable to perform their duties as parents, children are pouring into state and county foster care systems. In Montana, the number of children in foster care has doubled since 2010. In Georgia, it has increased by 80 percent, and in West Virginia, by 45 percent. Altogether, nearly 440,000 kids are spending this holiday season in foster care, compared with 400,000 in 2011.

The data points to drug abuse as a primary reason, and experts have identified opioids in particular. Neglect remains the main reason children enter foster care. But from 2015 to 2016, the increase in the number of children who came into foster care as a result of parental drug abuse was far greater than the increases in the 14 other categories, like housing instability, according to data from the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

Child welfare agencies across the country are doing heroic work, but they simply cannot find enough foster families to meet the growing demand. In some places, kids in foster care are sleeping in social workers’ offices. Many children are shipped off to prisonlike institutions where they languish for months, even years, without loving families. And many more bounce among multiple foster homes, deepening their feelings of abandonment, disrupting their education and severing their relationships with relatives, teachers and friends just when they need them most.

The consequences for these kids, and our country, are alarming. Children who have been in foster care are five times more likely to abuse drugs. As many as 70 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system have spent time in the child welfare system. One-third of homeless young adults were previously in foster care. Black children are twice as likely as white children to wind up in foster care and face its devastating effects, a symptom of our country’s disparate treatment of black and white families who experience similar challenges.

It turns out that our child welfare system is a kind of patient zero for the crises overwhelming our other social service organizations.

Of course there are unsung heroes trying to improve things: social workers collaborating with housing officials in states like Connecticut to prevent children from entering foster care simply because their families cannot afford safe apartments; nonprofit groups like Foster Adopt Connect, which hires detectives to track down relatives to care for children in foster care; and programs like Guardian Scholars, which prepares youths in foster care for college and careers.

But efforts like these are rare and lack the resources to meet demand because we as a society simply have not made these kids our priority.

There is no national foster care movement, no viral social media campaigns or crowds of protesters taking to the streets to battle for these children. No household name like Teach for America or AARP devoted to fighting for kids in foster care. Foster youths are, by definition, wards of the state, but when was the last time you heard any elected official talking about them?

It is a heartbreaking paradox that few people in the nonprofit, philanthropic or government sectors seem to think the foster care crisis is their problem, even though it is at the root of so many problems, such as mass incarceration and economic inequality, that they are so diligently trying to resolve.

Children in foster care desperately need their help. We cannot put the entire burden of fixing the system on the backs of overworked, underpaid social workers. Our government must treat the child welfare crisis like the emergency it is and respond with more funding and better policies. We need more philanthropists, advocates and celebrities to champion this cause and more families to open their homes and hearts.

We particularly need companies and professionals with private-sector expertise to partner with child welfare agencies and bring the system into the 21st century. Marketing experts can help recruit foster parents and spread the word about the 100,000 foster children who are available for adoption. Customer service specialists and user-centered designers can help children and families better navigate the system. Data scientists can use analytics to predict and prevent child abuse and reduce the number of kids who enter the system in the first place.

Issues like drug addiction and homelessness can seem overwhelming. The truth is, by the time they make the headlines, they have been building for years, and they are overwhelming, exhausting our communities’ resources and spiraling beyond our control.

But they didn’t start out that way. Often, they started with a child in need of a safe and loving home. And if we rally around each of those children, we can write a very different set of headlines years from now.


Federal tax cut is tiny compared to impact of opioid crisis

The new tax code will reportedly boost the economy by cutting $1.5 trillion in taxes over 10 years, but compared to the drag created by the nation’s opioid crisis, that’s chickenfeed.

Pain pills, heroin and exotic drugs like carfentanil created millions of addicts, caused thousands of overdose deaths and cost the U.S. $504 billion in economic losses in 2015 alone, according to a report released by President Donald Trump’s White House Council of Economic Advisors. That’s three times the annual benefit of the tax bill.

“The problem is worsening at an alarming pace, with opioid-involved overdose deaths doubling in the past ten years and quadrupling in the past sixteen,” the report, released in November, said.

The loss of 63,600 lives to drug overdoses is the main cost driver. The vast majority of the victims are between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working years when they would contribute the most to the economy.

The Centers for Disease Control found that the majority of the two million Americans addicted to opioids fall into the prime worker category. But unlike cocaine addicts who get hooked looking for a good time, most opioid addictions started in a doctor’s office.

The crisis began in 1995 when Purdue Pharma introduced a new opioid pill called Oxycontin. Purdue promised that unlike Percocet, or other morphine-like drugs, Oxycontin presented a low risk for addiction.

Purdue spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their patented formulation. Doctors, regulators and lawmakers began handing out Oxycontin like aspirin, making it the No. 1 narcotic prescribed in the U.S. and generating $35 billion in revenues for Purdue.

By 1999, though, the body count was mounting. Purdue accused patients of misusing their drug, but in 2003 the Drug Enforcement Administration blamed Purdue’s “aggressive marketing” for the widespread abuse.

By 2004, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed the first legal complaint. In 2006, Purdue plead guilty in Virginia to marketing Oxycontin with “with the intent to defraud or mislead.” The company stopped claiming the formulation was safer than other opioid drugs.

Momentum, though, was on Purdue’s side. Doctors prescribed Oxycontin to 97.5 million Americans in 2015, even though the National Survey of Drug Use and Health reported that one in four patients will abuse it.

The DEA is moving to reduce the amount of opioid medication manufactured in the U.S., and doctors are cutting back on prescriptions. But that has only sent many addicts to the streets, where they buy heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil, a large animal tranquilizer.

Opioid abuse has become so widespread it is reducing the available workforce and lowering life expectancies.

Since 1999, the number of prime age men on disability insurance has risen steadily, and half of them are on opioids, according to Princeton economist Alan Krueger.

In a study released in October, Krueger discovered that the increase in opioid prescriptions from 1999 to 2015 could account for 20 percent of the decline in the men’s labor force participation rate during that period, and 25 percent of the decline in women’s participation.

Addiction is also tied to economic well-being. A CDC study last month found that doctors in suburban areas, small cities and rural areas were prescribing opioids at much higher rates than big city doctors. High prescription rates also overlapped with “regions of economic hardship.”

U.S. life expectancy dropped for the second year in a row in 2016, largely because of rising drug overdose deaths in younger Americans, the CDC said.

Opioid addiction is not just a heath care crisis, it is an economic one. Because any plan to boost U.S. economic growth relies on more Americans working and earning more money.

The U.S. unemployment rate, which measures the number of people who want a job, but don’t have one, is currently at 4.1 percent, a level that many economists consider full employment. The problem is the workforce participation rate for people between 25 and 54 has dropped from 84.6 percent in 1999 to 81.6 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The participation rate peaked when Purdue’s marketing effort reached full tilt, and the U.S. now has the lowest participation rate among wealthy countries. More than 10 million prime age Americans have dropped out of the workforce.

Economic growth depends on helping otherwise healthy people kick opioids and get back in the workforce. Firing, jailing or shunning will only hold our nation back.

Harris County was smart to join the dozens of other state and local officials suing opioid makers for sparking this epidemic. Paying for treatment and rehabilitation will be costly, and the drug pushers should help pay.

Unfortunately, opioid manufacturers don’t have nearly enough money to pay for all the costs of the crisis, and we will be paying the price for decades.

Redistricting Update

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court met in conference to decide whether to accept the Texas redistricting cases on state house and congressional maps.

In September 2017, the justices blocked the findings from the San Antonio federal panel requiring state house and congressional maps be redrawn. The current maps passed in 2013 were found to violate the Constitution and Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority communities. As you know, house districts in Dallas and Tarrant counties and congressional districts based in Travis and Nueces counties were the districts identified by the federal court to be in violation.

You’re Invited:
Texas Tribune Panel with Rep. Coleman,
Rep. Shawn Thierry and Sen. Borris Miles
January 23rd

I’m joining The Texas Tribune for a conversation on the impact of the Texas Legislature on Houston. Register for FREE by clicking here. You will also be able to stream it live.

Join The Texas Tribune for lunch and a conversation with Houston-area state Reps. Garnet Coleman and Shawn Thierry, and state Sen. Borris Miles moderated by Texas Tribune co-founder and CEO Evan Smith.

Texas Southern University – Barbara Jordan Mickey-Leland School of Public Affairs
3402 Cleburne St.
Houston, TX 77004

Tue, January 23, 2018
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM CST

Click here to register.

Happy 2018!
Our song of the week is “New Year’s Day”
by Taylor Swift.


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