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The opioid epidemic's effects on families

Caudillo and Cohen investigate how family structures have changed with rising opioid epidemic death rates

We know the opioid epidemic has had harmful impacts on individuals' lives, but has it impacted children's family environments? Faculty Associates Mónica Caudillo and Philip Cohen, along with UCLA collaborator Andés Villarreal, investigate this question using data from the 2000 Census and the 2005-2018 American Community Survey. The authors hypothesize that child well-being may be impacted by the opioid crisis through an increased risk of being born into a family structure associated with instability and disadvantage or by having existing family structures destabilized by the crisis' effects on individuals, families, and communities.

They found that areas with the greatest opioid death rates had decreased rates of children living with two parents and increased rates of children living with cohabiting parents, a single parent, and with adults other than their parents. These family structures are associated with disadvantages in economic resources, parental education, and mental health compared to children living in family structures with two married parents, suggesting the epidemic may have downstream effects on children's well-being and prospects for upward social mobility.

Unfortunately, recent data show that the rates of opioid use disorder and opioid-related deaths have increased since 2018. The authors suggest strengthening the safety net around families with structures associated with poverty and material hardship to mitigate potentially negative effects on children's health and economic well-being. Public health care insurance, affordable childcare, and supplemental income (e.g., the Earned Income Tax Credit) are cited as potential policy-level protective factors.


Read the full study here:

Caudillo, M. L., Villarreal, A., & Cohen, P. N. (2022). The opioid epidemic and children’s living arrangements in the United States, 2000–2018. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 703(1), 162-187.

A research brief summarizing the study can be found here:

Caudillo, M., Villarreal, A., & Cohen, P. (2023). The Opioid Epidemic Has Disrupted Children’s Living Arrangements. Lerner Center Population Health Research Brief Series. 217.