Helping Parents and Children Impacted by the Opioid Epidemic


Motivated to keep her unborn baby, a young, single mother entered a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program to ween herself off opioids. She did well and delivered a healthy baby right on time. Unfortunately, soon after the birth she found herself in the clutches of addiction once again. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) had to place her newborn in another home – a safe home.

If you are a mother, a father, or a grandparent you may wonder how a person could do anything to put the relationship with a child in jeopardy. However, opioid addiction is not a choice. It’s a disease, and like this young mother, a lot of people are losing their children. Even worse, the number of people losing their lives is at an all-time high.

Research through November 2018 shows that substance abuse accounts for 73 percent of child removals in Circuit 1 (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties). Escambia and Walton counties lead the charge. The statistics include a variety of drugs, but opioids, including heroin, are the most abused. Some users are looking for comfort in the wrong place trying to escape emotional pain, trauma, anxiety or depression. Abusing a substance over time changes the brain. Then, in the grips of full-blown addiction, if that person continues chasing a high to suppress ill feelings, they build up a tolerance to the drug.

“We rarely ever see a person quit on their own. It’s too hard. Overdoses happen often when a person quits using for a while and then relapses and takes the same dosage they stopped with. But since they regained a degree of health, their tolerance threshold was lower and the dose killed them,” said Dustin Perry, clinical director of Medication-Assisted Treatment at Lakeview Center. “MAT is a two-part treatment where a person takes a medication to stave off cravings while they ease into recovery, and they also receive counseling to learn about good health habits and the risks involved if they start using again. The outcomes are quite good.”

The risks Perry refers to are loss of children, work, home and life. Jenn Petion, director of administration and external affairs at FamiliesFirst Network (FFN) of Lakeview said, “It all comes down to safety, and right now, we need the community’s help.” FFN is the lead agency in a partnership with DCF to provide foster care and related services. In other words, FFN gets the call when a child needs a safe home.

“Our first goal is to keep children in their biological homes, because removal is very traumatic. However, when a parent is working toward recovery, it’s more difficult to care for a newborn or young child who needs round-the-clock care. That’s why the need is so great right now for foster parents who can take in children 5-years-old and younger.”

Many children born into this epidemic have a difficult life path to follow, but the future for the child in this story looks hopeful. The mother found a path to recovery and was reunited with her baby after a three-month stint in a residential treatment facility participating in a MAT program. She still continues MAT treatment as an outpatient. For some, recovery is a lifelong journey. This mother is leaning on the counseling she receives, the medication to alleviate cravings and the wonderful bond she is building with her child.

If you can open your home to keep a child safe, call  850.453.7777. Visit FamiliesFirstNetwork.org to learn more about becoming a foster parent.

If you need help with addiction, reach out to a MAT clinic in your area:

  • MAT Clinic – 1800 North Palafox St., Pensacola, FL,  850.466.3400
  • MAT Clinic – 1 Eleventh Ave., Suite C1, Shalimar, FL,  850.609.1040
  • MAT Clinic – 6021 A Industrial Blvd., Century, Fl.,  850.256.6165
  • The Summit Group Call  850.437.8952 or visit eSummitGroup.org
  • Visit eLakeviewCenter.org/OpiateTreatment to learn more.

Local statistics about home removals:

  • 61 percent of children being removed from their homes due to maltreatment are 5 years old or younger.
  • Substance abuse accounts for 73 percent of removals in Circuit 1 compared to 40 percent statewide.

Recovery success rate comparison:

  • Recovery plan only using medication 10-15 percent.
  • Recovery plan only using counseling 10-15 percent.
  • Recovery plan using a combination of medication and counseling 40 percent.

Fatalities statistics:

Data from the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics reported that Florida experienced the following in “unintentional and undetermined drug overdose,” or UUDO, deaths in the corresponding years:

  • 2014 UUDOs numbered 2,175
  • 2015 UUDOs numbered 2,805 (a 29 percent increase)
  • 2016 UUDOs numbered 4,672 (a 67 percent increase)