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Opioids connected to half of child abuse and neglect cases in Washington

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Half of the cases of child abuse and child neglect the state Attorney General's office handles involve opioids, a new survey reveals.

"The amount of opioids prescribed in our state is massive, the number we have seen, there are enough opioids prescribed in our state for every man woman and child to have a 16 day supply, that's insane," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The AG said he isn't surprised by the survey results but insists it speaks the extent of the opioid epidemic.

The Pediatric Interim Care Center Nursery in Kent deals with drugs and families, too.

They see opioids and other drugs impacting newborns every day. Right now seven babies are being cared for at their Kent nursery.

Nurses are always with the babies and checking on them constantly. We watched as a nurse swaddled and settled a 36-day-old baby girl.

Her roommate, a 16-day-old baby boy is swaddled in a blue blanket and never budges from his sleep.

"This year and last year, all but two of the babies had heroin, an opiate and meth," said Barbara Drennen, co-founder of the Center, also known at PICC.

They are what she calls drug-affected newborns.

"They are shaking, they are crying...they're running a temperature because they are trying so hard to control their body," said Drennen. "You have to be able to read what that baby is telling you cause the baby is your bible and you need to move quickly."

Their 24-hour nursery weans babies off drugs, most of them were separated from their mother's due to neglect, they are what the state calls dependency cases.

In a news release the AG's office says, "A dependent child is one who has been abandoned, abused or severely neglected by their guardian, or has no parent or guardian capable of adequately caring for the child, such that the child is in danger. Each year, thousands of children in Washington state are victims of abuse, severe neglect or abandonment and are placed in the care of the state by the courts."

"We have thousands of those case around the state at any particular time," said the Attorney General.

He said those kinds of cases are just another example of the opioid crisis in our state.

Ferguson said in July assistant attorneys general estimated out of more than 6,800 dependency cases or child abuse and child neglect cases in nearly half of them opioids played a role.

"The impact on those children, that impact is significant and long lasting." said Ferguson.

He has been pushing to require practitioners in our state to check a database before initially prescribing any narcotic to determine if a patient is doctor shopping or in medical need. He thinks relying on the database known as the Prescription Monitoring Program and limiting pain pills prescribed could help to curb the crisis.

"When the babies leave here the drugs are out of their system, then we become the make-or-break-factor, parents, daycares, schools, grandparents," said Brennen.

And in many cases, the center works with mothers connecting them with their newborns whenever possible.

In 2017, 56 percent of the babies were placed in foster care after discharge from PICC, and 44 percent went home with parents or relatives.

For 28 years, the Kent nursery has weaned 3,100 babies off drugs, but even it wanted to the nursery can't reach every baby in need.

"The magnitude on future generations becomes pretty real," said Ferguson.

The AG's survey also estimated that the epidemic impacted nearly 40 percent of their parental rights termination caseload.

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