Foster Care and the Opioid Crisis: This is What It Looks Like in Real Life

A couple in West Virginia—the epicenter of the opioid crisis—became parents to four children thrown into foster care because of their parents' drug addiction. They are just one family bringing attention to an issue that's plaguing the country. HLN's Lynn Smith dives into the story.

One of the most devastating unintended consequences of the opioid epidemic is the children. Orphaned, they are thrust into a broken foster care system, waiting for a family to choose them because their parents’ addictions got in the way of their parenting.

One couple decided to do something about this sad reality.

Caleb and Jennifer Yearout live in West Virginia, which is described as the epicenter of the crisis. Opioids have ravaged homes and families. For every 100,000 deaths in that state, 41 are drug overdoses according to the National Institutes of Health. Some believe the depressed economy and lack of education made the state a prime target. A local paper investigated the root of their crisis and found in just 10 months, a town of only 400 residents in southern West Virginia had 3 million prescription opioids shipped to a single pharmacy. That’s about 10,000 pills a day on average in a town of just a few hundred people.

prescription drug bottles in pharmacy
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Watching this playing out in their backyard, the Yearouts began reading profile after profile of children waiting to find a home on the WV Adoption Resource Network. That’s where they found Noah, 5, as well as Kaitlyn, 13, Wyatt, 11, and Alexis, 8. The latter three are siblings who were separated from a home because of addiction and were desperate to stay together. The Yearouts saw this as a challenge no child should face and adopted all four children.

“They are so grateful for everything,” Jennifer told me on HLN’s On the Story. “There is just so much that they just drink in the love and they pour it right back out.”

More than a million U.S. children entered the foster care system from 2000 to 2017 due to their parents’ drug addiction.

And the kids are not just surviving, but thriving. Jennifer was proud to report all three siblings are on honor roll. (Good work, Mama!) “I just have found nothing to be more rewarding than to help children and see the tremendous progress they can make when given a chance and safety and just having their basic needs met,” says Jennifer.

The Yearout family.
The Yearout family. Courtesy of Jennifer Yearout

Four children in foster care were saved because one family felt it was the right thing to do. But there are many more to go. More than 7,000 children are in foster care in West Virginia, marking a 71 percent increase over the last 10 years.

Nationwide, more than a million children entered the system from 2000 to 2017 due to their parents’ drug addiction, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from an overdose. And 91 people die each day from prescription or illicit opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here’s the simple truth: The opioid epidemic has taken millions of lives and it’s also orphaned hundreds of thousands of children.

The ones who didn’t take the pill are the ones sleeping on cots at children’s services facilities across the country unless someone steps up like the Yearouts did. They became the parents they didn’t need to be, but wanted to be.

Learn more about foster care here.

Lynn Smith is the host of HLN's On The Story, which airs 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET.

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