OSU study: In neighborhoods with more opioid overdoses, there's more child abuse

Naloxone kit
The study found where there were higher rates of naloxone use, there were also higher rates of referrals for child welfare investigations. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Ohio neighborhoods with more opioid overdoses also have a higher rate of child abuse, according to a new study from the Ohio State University’s College of Social Work.

Looking at 9,231 Census block groups in Ohio, which were used as a stand-in for neighborhoods, the study looked at every instance in 2015 when an EMS responder used naloxone in an attempt to stop an opioid overdose including from prescription pills to heroin to fentanyl.

The study found that in Ohio neighborhoods where there were higher rates of naloxone being administered, there were also higher rates of referrals for child welfare investigations and higher substantiation of child abuse and neglect reports. 

The study highlights the fact that the opioid crisis isn’t just affecting those overdosing from the drugs, it’s affecting children too, according to OSU Professor Bridget Freisthler, the study’s author and associate dean for research with the College of Social Work.

“It really speaks to the need for more prevention and to figuring out what's going on in these neighborhoods and provide the supports ahead of time,” Freisthler told Ideastream Public Media.

“The child welfare system is very reactive. And unfortunately, that reactiveness means that we're waiting to have some other bad thing happen before we intervene in the family. But, you can do preventive services that are really around wrapping supports around the family,” Freisthler added.

Zeroing in on the issue at a neighborhood level allows for a “finer, geographic area” in which intervention and prevention efforts might be implemented, she said.

“When you try to do prevention on a whole county level, it gets diffused. And often, what happens is it goes to those bigger places” Freisthler said. “So, it'll go to the bigger cities in the county. It won't necessarily go to those smaller, more rural places. And, this lets you look at it and say, ‘OK, overdoses are happening here.’”

The data showed that generally the Appalachian communities in Ohio were hardest hit by opioid abuse, according to Freisthler.

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Freisthler is conducting related studies including one focused on the pandemic’s impact on opioid abuse in Ohio.

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