We’ve all heard about the Opioid Epidemic. The FDA has called it the biggest issue they’re facing right
now, and drug abuse across the US (primarily the South) has skyrocketed. But where did this come from
and what does it mean for Wilmington; specifically Wilmington’s Foster Care system. I was curious to
find the answers to these questions so I did some digging. Here’s a brief history of how exactly we got

In the 1990’s, many American’s began to be diagnosed with “chronic pain” – sort of a catch-all term for
a number of maladies that either don’t heal quickly or are too high on the uncomfortability scale to be
managed with just NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Tylenol and Advil. Turns out,
about one-third of the population in this country can be classified as having chronic pain, and the drug
companies cashed in. With the help of the federal government and some aggressive advertising, they
began pushing to expand the use of opioids to manage pain. Between 1991 and 2011 painkiller
prescriptions tripled from 76 million to 219 million a year. These drugs include Oxycodone (also called
OxyContin or Percocet) and Hydrocodone (Vicodin). It’s worth noting that despite the sharp increase in
the use of opioids, there has been no change in the amount of pain reported in the US; a fact which has
led many in the medical community to question whether it is effective or even appropriate to use
opioids to manage pain. But to add insult to injury, as the number of these prescriptions soared, drug
cartels began flooding the US with heroin. For many opioid drug users, heroin is cheaper, more potent,
and easier to get their hands on. As a result, from 2005 to 2009, Mexican heroin production increased
over 600%. The amount seized at the border doubled, and the US lost total control of opioid drug abuse
(if it ever had any). And guess what US city is ranked #1 in opioid abuse – Wilmington, NC.

It’s not hard to extrapolate the implications of such a spike in both heroin use and prescription drug
abuse for the children in our community. Kids are entering the foster care system in record numbers.
Between June 2011 and July 2012, 160 kids entered the system in New Hanover county. Over this past
year, that number has jumped to 280, and that’s just the new placements. At any given time, there are
over around 450 kids in DSS custody here. In addition to these kids being taken out of their homes after
drug raids, or due to neglect associated with parents who abuse drugs, perhaps the most disturbing fact
is the number of babies in Wilmington being born addicted. They’re called NAS babies (Neonatal
Abstinence Syndrome). As soon as they’re born they go into withdrawal. They can tremble
uncontrollably, cry excessively, have trouble sleeping and eating, sweat, vomit, and a laundry list of
other difficulties that a baby shouldn’t have to face. Last year alone, 55 babies were born positive for
these drugs at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. DSS Supervisor of foster care and adoption
assistance, Brian Bucnuk has said that a full 20% of the 280 kids that came into foster care between July
2016 and June 2017 were touched by opioids. That’s one in five.

Despite the magnitude of the crisis and its effect on our local kids, Wilmington is stepping up to meet
this challenge. Foster families in our area are doing all that they can to open their homes and hearts to
our community kids in need. New foster parents are joining the ranks and becoming certified every
quarter. But they can’t do it without the help of this community. The old saying goes “it takes a takes a village,”
and any foster parent will tell you, a truer statement has never been made. These families depend on
their friends, family, and the generosity of strangers like you to help these children through the most
difficult time they may ever face. With that in mind, the Foster Pantry wants to thank everyone who has
donated clothes, formula, money, been a shoulder for a struggling foster parent, or given the gift of
their time during one of our “sorting parties.” If you’ve ever wondered if you’re making a difference, if
what you’re doing matters, it absolutely does. And thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


Kate Lichtenfels
Kate LichtenfelsAuthor