An estimated 116 people die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses in the United States. The opioid crisis has hit low-income and rural communities particularly hard, with increased homelessness, growing numbers of children in foster care, and more opiate orphans – children whose parents have died from an overdose. In October 2017, President Donald J. Trump declared a public health emergency to address the opioid crisis.
At the Office of Family Assistance (OFA), we know that opiate use can also cause barriers to family economic security, and we’re are trying to help our partners in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program assist families in overcoming those issues.
My focus as Director has been committing us to building the capacity of individuals to reduce their dependency on public supports, and we want TANF programs and their partners to unlock the inner power of each person to achieve self-sufficiency.
A job is the clearest pathway to economic independence and social well-being, and struggling with substance abuse can make employment difficult. We are meeting with our public health and workforce development partners to better understand how addiction impacts the ability to get and keep a job. We are gathering promising practices related to screening, assessment, and treatment services. And we are helping eight states use employment coaching through a learning community, employer engagement, vocational training, career pathways, and other strategies to increase employment in the face of big challenges.
We are targeting our efforts to the communities hardest hit by the crisis. Our colleagues in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation found that individuals in poverty are twice as likely to be dependent on opioids as those with incomes above 200% of the poverty line. Many social services systems have implemented special programs to screen for substance abuse and refer recipients to treatment, and OFA is identifying some of these promising programs. And even though the crisis has impacted people of all races and ethnicities, white Americans and Native Americans have been hardest hit, especially among 45-54 year olds. Whether targeting our actions on rural communities or in collaboration with American Indian Alaska Native tribes, we have made it a priority to identify challenges and find solutions.
We also want to help our partners better understand the problems that opioids can cause, so they can be better prepared to help. We are compiling resources on the OFA PeerTA website for TANF agencies and partners seeking to enhance available services. We hosted workshops on community-based solutions to opioid use disorder and partnerships for prevention. Our partners in Head Start, child welfare services, Medicaid, and others have added supports to directly help children and families impacted by opioid abuse.
OFA will continue to work with our grantees, and reach out to public and private partners to determine effective strategies for addressing the crisis. We remain committed to winning this fight for every family impacted by opioids.