How the ‘War on Drugs’ tears families apart

Parents and community activists protest San Bernardino County Child Protective Services and Juvenile Court System outside of San Bernardino Juvenile Justice Court, San Bernardino, California, November 16, 2022.

Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (also known as opioid addiction) is a valid pathway to recovery. In fact, it can be recovery itself, even if a patient requires staying on it for a set period of time or indefinitely. The viewpoint that MAT for chaotic opioid use is a form of recovery is one that people are slowly coming to accept, even if it comes into conflict with other, abstinence-based viewpoints of recovery.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with MAT, as expressed in the Narcotics Anonymous World Services Board of Trustees Bulletin #29, “Regarding Methadone and Other Drug Replacement Programs”: “We make a distinction between drugs used by drug replacement programs and other prescribed drugs because such drugs are prescribed specifically as addiction treatment. Our program approaches recovery from addiction through abstinence, cautioning against the substitution of one drug for another.” (NA.org) 

These powerful, destructive words are seared into the minds of some addicts in recovery, people in charge of drug treatment courts, and people beyond the first-person experience of addiction and chaotic drug use treatment. NA’s position fosters the view that there is a single, abstinence-only way to treat the drug problem.

This leads to a major issue facing many people in recovery using MAT: They are not viewed as being in recovery, they are cruelly viewed as “junkies,” using drugs legally. Child Protective Services (CPS) or equivalent state and county officials can hold this viewpoint and callously rip children from their parents, obliterating families in the name of “protecting” children. 

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 requires that hospitals report newborns who test positive for all drugs — including methadone and buprenorphine — to state or county level child welfare services, such as Child Protective Services.

CPS removes children from addicts in treatment

Methadone and buprenorphine are frontline treatments for Opioid Use Disorder. This means that their use is the best treatment currently available for people seeking recovery. Even the government acknowledges this fact. Regardless, CPS seizes children, no matter the potential trauma it could cause for everyone involved.

When we talk about the War on Drugs, we often talk about the destructive role that police play in continuing it. The police attempt to arrest their way out of the drug problem in the United States, a method that fails. We need to talk about the role that CPS plays too, as a de facto arm of the police state.

CPS often punishes families for being in poverty. While it isn’t good for children to grow up in poverty, children can still thrive in poverty conditions. Stripping them from their families often causes more damage than keeping them where they are. According to the 2023 study “Child protective services contact and youth outcomes,” contact with CPS can lead to anxiety, school problems, reduction in happiness and impulsivity in children. (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/)

There have been other studies, such as “Mothers in methadone treatment and their involvement with the child protection system: A replication and extension study,” that reach similar conclusions. 

Methadone and buprenorphine are valid pathways of recovery, confirmed by science and medicine. Yet CPS uses its power to crush families because people use these drugs in order to get better. This needs to end, because children are being traumatized.

It’s not just parents on methadone and buprenorphine whose children are being taken away by CPS. Other parents in recovery have experiences with this. All a relative – an in-law, for example – has to do is contact CPS and say that they believe the rightful parents are still using drugs. It doesn’t matter if there’s evidence of this or if there’s a history of the parents using drugs. Some people connected to the parents know this and report the parents to CPS.

These attacks on parents can happen to anyone, but Black and Latiné people are more likely to have their children taken away than white parents; these attacks most often target mothers. 

When we talk about the negative role of police in the War on Drugs, we have to consider the role of non-traditional police forces in the War, including CPS. They act like police when it comes to parenting and families. Liberating parents and families from unnecessary attacks by CPS starts with a careful analysis of its role.

Princess Harmony

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