Homeless Youth and Opioids: A Deadly Cycle

August 14, 2018 - 1:53pm

Few recent public health crises have had the widespread impact of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 115 people die every day from opioids in the United States, causing an annual loss of $78.5 billion from health care costs, lost wages, and other side effects. Every segment of the population has been affected, from high-profile celebrities to high-poverty communities, leading the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to declare a state of emergency

Unsurprisingly, runaway and homeless youth have been touched by the crisis as well. Kevin Ryan, founder of longstanding Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) Runaway and Homeless Youth program grantee Covenant House wrote in a blog about the opioid crisis “the time for an aggressive, nationwide public health response is now.” 

 In 2014, researchers at the University of Southern California found that more than 20 percent of homeless young people reported prescription drug misuse in the previous month, and nearly 50 percent reported it over their lifetime. But the effects are not limited to young people’s own drug abuse. The Children’s Bureau has reported that the number of youth in foster care is on the rise, driven by parent drug abuse more than any other factor: “Approximately 92,000 children were removed from their homes in FY 2016 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.”

The connection between foster care and youth homelessness is a close one — the most recent data from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago show that nearly one-third of youth experiencing homelessness had experiences with foster care. As more parents lose their children due to opioid addiction, an increasing number of U.S. children run a high risk of becoming homeless, which in turn makes them more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, endangering them further. This is an urgent matter for the entire country, and a pressing concern for runaway and homeless youth providers in particular. 

Below are some resources youth service providers may find helpful:

Also, check out some of the resources on this topic from the Clearinghouse’s database of Research Summaries:

Visit the webpages on RHY Partners to learn more about essential partners in fighting opioid abuse:

Don’t forget to check out new funding opportunities and research summaries, continually updated.

Photo collage of young man with pills, young woman with pills, and a photo of pills and syringe.