Opioid Epidemic Contributed to Our Foster Care Crisis

May is Foster Care Family Month, a time to focus on what we can do to support foster care families.

These special families step up to help children during traumatic times in their young lives, being taken from their parent(s) and removed from their homes.

While it is nice to take a month to honor foster care families, we should recognize their sacrifice and work to take care of our most vulnerable West Virginia children the entire year.

We should also reflect on the fact that there are approximately 6,300 children from West Virginia in foster care. Our state’s foster care system is overwhelmed by this number. Our Child Protective Service workers are overworked and understaffed.

The system is near the breaking point.

Substance use disorder is at the heart of West Virginia’s foster care crisis. Opioid abuse has led us to dire straits, and it is equally important to reflect on this root cause during Foster Care Month.

The state recently settled a $99 million lawsuit with Johnson & Johnson’s Jansen Pharmaceuticals for the role the company played in the opioid crisis. Dr. Rahul Gupta, the current director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy and the former head of the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, testified that the drug problem had gotten so bad in the state that it was difficult to find foster parents.

As member of the Senior, Children and Family Issues Committee in the House of Delegates, I couldn’t agree more. The drug and opioid epidemic in this state has taken a heavy toll on infants born addicted with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). West Virginia has 33 cases of NAS per 1,000 births compared to the national average of 6 per 1,000 births.

We learned during Interims last year that the average medical costs to the state for a NAS baby that has long-term health and development problems is $2 million over their lifetime. While a $99 million settlement seems large, it will barely pay for the medical care of 50 babies.

We cannot forget these youngsters, and we should not ignore the companies who played a key role in this surge in drug abuse and the ramifications. Companies like Jansen Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma who were key players in this crisis as was McKinsey & Co. McKinsey & Co. is a consulting firm based in Chicago that has been in the news a lot lately.

They recently settled a lawsuit by the state to the tune of $10 million. This company did not actually manufacture the pills, but they worked with Purdue Pharma to aggressively market addictive substances like Oxycontin.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told Purdue Pharma they were using unethical means to market the highly addictive narcotic, they called McKinsey & Co. to find ways to boost sales.

They came up with ways to skirt FDA advertising regulations to, in company executives’ words, “turbocharge” sales. According to legal documents filed during litigation the strategy worked, and Purdue saw a 300% increase in the sales of OxyContin.

The profits again soared, and more children went into foster care.

Now it has been revealed that a partner at McKinsey & Co. was working with the FDA at the same time the company was also assisting Perdue Pharma. How can this be?

How can a consulting firm work with a drug company while at the same time assisting the federal agency that is responsible for their oversight?

Leaders in Washington, D.C. have called for answers. I hope they find them.

Meanwhile we will continue to work to pick up the pieces here in the Mountain State.

Democrat Lisa Zukoff of Marshall County is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates representing the 4th District. She is an assistant minority whip and minority vice chairwoman of the Senior, Children and Family Issues Committee.

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