The United States is facing an opioid epidemic and Ohio has been hit hard. In 2017, more than 5,000 Ohioans died from a drug overdose—putting Ohio at the third highest rate of overdose deaths nationwide. But the impact of the opioid crisis extends far beyond those experiencing addiction—the mental and physical health, social-emotional well-being, and potential for long-term success of Ohio kids affected by the opioid epidemic are severely at risk. Investing in quality early childhood programs for our youngest Ohioans can increase their resiliency, buffer the trauma caused by the epidemic, and reduce their likelihood of using drugs as an adult. Caring for the youngest and most vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic must be prioritized as our state responds to this crisis.
Without consistent, quality programs that support mental and physical health, social-emotional well-being, and cognitive development, our youngest victims of the opioid crisis will be dealing with its negative for the rest of their lives. Quality early childhood programs can buffer the impact of toxic stress by helping struggling families achieve and maintain consistency and by creating stable, nurturing environments that promote healthy development.
Studies have shown that high-quality early childhood education decrease rates of drug use, especially among males who account for 66% of Ohio’s opioid overdose deaths each year. Furthermore, home visiting programs, which are an integral part of Ohio’s early childhood education system have been proven to decrease rates of maternal drug abuse, reduce the effect of parental addiction on children, and improve family economic self-sufficiency. These links, along with quality early childhood education’s positive impact on attainment levels and employment outcomes, suggest that an investment in quality early childhood education in Ohio would have a significant long-term impact on the opioid crisis.
Prevent Now or Pay Later
In addition to the emotional toll this crisis has had on the state, the opioid epidemic has cost Ohio an estimated $6.6 billion per year—$2.8 billion in spending on medical care, treatment, and criminal justice costs and an additional $3.8 billion in lost productivity annually. Current state spending on early childhood education is nearly 300% less than state spending in response to the opioid crisis. By increasing state investments in early childhood education, we can provide access to quality programs for Ohio’s most at-risk kids and reduce state spending down the road.
Interested in learning more about how quality early childhood programs can help address the opioid crisis in Ohio? Check out our new resource, Stop the Crisis Where it Begins: Shining a Light on the Invisible Victims of Ohio's Opioid Epidemic.
Next week, we are releasing the Ohio Early Childhood Race and Rural Equity Report. The report explores the undeniable and sobering truth that some children are much more likely to start behind, and thus will stay behind, than others. While these children include those living in poverty, the data illustrates that poverty alone does not tell the whole story. A child’s race foretells a distinct and critical narrative that must be examined separately to fully understand the problem, as even those children of color who are not poor are too often not achieving at the rate of their white peers.
Keep an eye out for the official release on Wednesday afternoon--we'll be sharing a link to the full report on our website and via email. We look forward to engaging in conversations that allow us all to challenge our assumptions, investigate the evidence and recognize what we don’t yet know.