Tennessee’s Struggle: Loss of Parental Rights on the Rise Due to Opioid Abuse

Written by Journey Pure Staff

In recent years, opioid abuse rates in Tennessee have grown to epidemic levels. This statistic includes both users of heroin and legal prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine. Many people who become addicted to a prescription painkiller end up abusing both prescription drugs and illegal drugs like heroin that can be easier and cheaper to attain. Last year alone, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 1,451 Tennesseans. Tennessee has the 2nd highest rate of per capita opiate prescriptions in the country, with more opiate prescriptions written each year than there are citizens in the state.  

As opioid abuse rates have increased, another startling statistic has skyrocketed. The number of parents having their parental rights legally terminated has increased by 51% in Tennessee during the past few years. The number of children in Department of Child Services (DCS) custody awaiting adoption has also risen by 56 percent in recent years, putting a strain on available resources and leaving many children with little hope of finding an adoptive family.

According to a recent article in the Tennessean, local judges blame the opioid abuse crisis for the rising number of people having their parental rights severed by the courts. Many factors go into the decision of DCS to seek termination of parental rights, but attorneys, court-appointed guardians, and judges across the state all cite the opioid crisis as the primary driver of the increase in termination proceedings.

Judges have reported the presence of opioid abuse in a parent’s medical records as a factor that often automatically leads to the loss of parental rights. Although parents may appeal their ruling, the termination of parental rights is often permanent. Because opiate abuse is so widespread and harmful, the courts have created a system of stringent requirements that parents must meet in order to get their children back. Attorneys say that most parents, even those who enter rehab and make an effort to get sober, are unable to meet these standards and regain custody of their children.

Because opiate abuse often affects entire families, with grandparents, siblings, and extended family members all abusing drugs, DCS cases involving opiate addiction are more likely to lead to a termination of parental rights than cases involving abuse and neglect.

The rising number of parents losing their rights creates another compelling reason to get help if you are concerned about your drug use. Any use of a prescription medication that does not directly follow the dosage and timing instructions prescribed to by your doctor is a red flag for addiction. Even taking one pill too many puts you at risk for developing dependence on these highly addictive drugs. Getting help early makes the recovery process easier and can prevent the life-altering consequences faced by many addicts. If you suspect that you are a loved one are at risk for drug abuse, contacting an addiction specialist could be the call that preserves your family.