By: Kristin Abner, Ph.D.

Kristin Abner, Ph.D., is a Senior Manager of Research Science at ICF where she works on technical assistance and research projects relating to child poverty, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and workforce programs.


The views expressed in In Focus are exclusively those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions of their employers or clients. References to materials or services in the public domain do not imply endorsement from those entities.



As discussed in my colleague’s blog post, the opioid epidemic has taken an unprecedented toll on American employment, well-being, and life expectancy.  The effects are experienced not only by individuals with opioid use disorder, but also spill over into children and families- to include increased risk of child welfare involvement and of trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Solutions to combat the opioid crisis have started to focus on families and communities, particularly for underserved populations that have been disproportionality affected by the epidemic.

Federal and state government agencies and community-based organized have started to break down barriers to build solutions across systems. Recently, the federal government has invested significant resources to research, counter, and prevent opioid abuse, including declaring opioid abuse a public health emergency in 2017.

Many federal government agencies, including the Office of Family Assistance (OFA), who operates the TANF program, have noted they are committed to helping families overcome opioid addiction to foster economic security and overcome the effects of opioid use on employment. In March 2018, OFA hosted a webinar on the relation between opioid use disorder and TANF receipt- highlighting Kentucky’s Targeted Assessment Program and Vermont’s Children and Recovering Mothers program. Additionally of note is the government’s recognition of unique challenges faced by rural communities as part of the opioid crisis, prompting the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Rural Opioid Federal Interagency Working Group to compile a comprehensive list of federal resources to address substance use disorder and opioid misuse in those areas.

States are also developing state-level solutions with regard to service integration. Specifically, the National Academy for State Health Policy provides strategies for improving service delivery and state examples for how integrating services to provide access to services for families with children across three states. As an example, Kentucky’s Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) program is based in child welfare, but uses multiple funding streams for the program to include Medicaid, the TANF block grant, as well as state funds and Title IV-E Child Welfare Waiver Demonstration Grants. The report also includes information on building a continuum of care, understanding and integrating trauma-informed approaches into service delivery, building staff capacity through training, and developing peer support programs, to name a few.

Although the opioid crisis is felt broadly at the national and state level, the immediate and day-to-day effects are experienced at the local level among families and communities. A recent publication using data from rural communities in Minnesota showed the importance of grassroots solutions to combat the opioid crisis. Community forums were planned and implemented to provide education and build collaboration on solutions, bringing together speakers from a variety of fields to include health, law enforcement, and treatment and recovery. Findings indicate that the forums increased awareness and, in communities where the forums were planned collaboratively, the teams reported increased community engagement and collaboration since the forums.

Finally, there are a variety of free Toolkits and Resources for addressing opioid use disorder around prevention, risk, screening, and support to include: