University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Understanding the needs of families during the opioid crisis

Human services programs provide essential services to families and individuals who are struggling with opioid and other substance use disorders. In this article Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist at Monroe Carnell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, reviews the history of the opioid crisis in the United States, discusses neonatal abstinence syndrome, identifies some key issues to keep in mind when considering the opioid crisis, and considers policy implications.


  • Traditional models of caring for opioid-exposed infants are inefficient and expensive; better outcomes can be achieved with newer models that keep mother and infant together and out of intensive-care settings after birth.
  • Treatment should focus on all substance use, not just use of opioids.
  • Most people who need treatment are not getting it.
  • Context matters; both community characteristics and individual exposure to trauma are correlated with opioid use disorder.


Child Development & Well-Being, Child Maltreatment & Child Welfare System, Children, Health, Mental Health & Substance Abuse