University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Focus & Focus+ 36(1), February 2020
Human services programs and the opioid crisis, Part 1

The current opioid epidemic has devastated families and communities and shattered lives. While the adverse effects of the opioid crisis on individuals, families, and communities are well established, less is known about how the epidemic may inhibit human services programs from achieving their goals, including family stability, child well-being, and self-sufficiency. Human services programs provide essential assistance to families and individuals who are struggling with opioid and other substance use disorders. Many clients are also experiencing concurrent issues, which include poverty, homelessness, and involvement with the criminal justice system.

The September 2019 poverty research and policy forum, Human Services Programs and the Opioid Crisis, convened by the Institute for Research on Poverty in partnership with the Office of Human Services Policy, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, examined how the opioid epidemic has affected the delivery of human services, and what role those services can play in mitigating the negative effects of the crisis on individuals, families, and communities. The forum had three objectives:

  • To understand how the opioid crisis is hindering human services programs in meeting their objectives;
  • To understand how human services programs can facilitate successful treatment and recovery for individuals with opioid use disorder; and
  • To understand how human services programs can address the effects of the opioid crisis on their objectives.

This is the first of two issues of Focus to feature material from the forum. This issue contains a summary of the keynote address focusing on neonatal abstinence syndrome given by Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist at Monroe Carnell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University. In addition, it provides four brief summaries of breakout sessions about how human services programs can address the effects of the opioid crisis on their objectives.

This issue features an electronic supplement, Focus+, which includes links to additional readings and videos related to the articles in the issue. This resource may be particularly useful in the classroom.