Almost Everything We Need to Better Serve Children of the Opioid Crisis We Learned in the 80s and 90s

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Opioid use disorder impedes dependent parents' abilities to care for their children. In turn, children may languish in unpredictability and persistent chaos. Societal responses to these children are often guided by a belief that unless the drug dependent parent receives treatment, there is little help for the child. While a preponderance of the drug dependence research is adult-centric, a significant body of research demonstrates the importance of not only addressing the immediate well being of the children of drug dependent caregivers but preventing the continuing cycle of drug dependence. The present commentary demonstrates through a brief review of the US history of drug dependence crises and research from the 1980s and 1990s, a range of “tried and true” family, school, and community interventions centered on children. We already know that these children are at high risk of maladjustment and early onset of drug dependence; early intervention is critical; multiple risk factors are likely to occur simultaneously; comprehensive strategies are optimal; and multiple risk-focused strategies are most protective. Where we need now to turn our efforts is on how to effectively implement and disseminate best practices, many of which we learned in the 1980s and 1990s. The greatest opportunity in both changing the nature of the opioid epidemic at scale and influencing rapid translation of existing research findings into policy and practice is not in asking what to do, but in asking how to do the right things well, and quickly.