Yesterday's State of the Union address (Jan. 30) included a lot to talk about: North Korea, the economy, and immigration. But one part has been somewhat overlooked: President Trump's remarks about the opioid epidemic. "As we have seen tonight, the most difficult challenges bring out the best in America," said President Trump in yesterday's speech. He began to tell a short anecdote, after making some remarks about the threat of the opioid crisis and his desired policy response.

Opioid addiction: a national crisis

Let's look at President Trump's own statistics: 64,000 overdose deaths in 2017, coming out to 174 deaths per day and seven per hour.

Nationwide, communities have been ravaged by the effects of substance abuse. This issue has become one of the largest policy questions at national, state, and local levels.

"Last year, [Officer] Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin... She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby."

Substance abuse and child removal

Many of the families currently involved with, or at risk of involvement with, the child welfare system are also struggling with substance abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up to two-thirds of child maltreatment cases were affected by substance use to some degree.

Parental substance abuse is a major risk factor for abuse and neglect, often leading to the removal of a child from the home. In President Trump's story, we see a mother struggling with a substance abuse issue. "In an instant, [Officer Holet's wife] agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope."

The impacts of removal

Of course, this story might not be all that inspiring.

Nationwide, millions of children become involved in the child welfare system, and thousands are removed from their families each year. Some experts worry that out-of-home placement can have dangerous impacts on children's cognitive skills and behavior problems, as interruptions in parental care can impact their development, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.

Traditionally, the child welfare system's primary aim has been to increase safety and advocate for permanency, meaning that the best way to support a child is to make sure that they can remain safe in the family home, rather than by removing them. However, in many cases, these children end up in foster care. Children removed from the home are more likely to come from low-income or minority households.

The removal of children from low-income communities of color has been a long documented problem, as racial disparities have been shown in black, Hispanic, and American Indian communities, according to the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (Isn't it interesting how this story about the opioid crisis starts as part of the president's remarks on immigration control?).

Removal of children fractures communities, and in many cases removes children's ties to their heritage. Losing a child has significant impacts on the mental health of those around them. The story of a woman losing the chance to know her child is not inspiring, it's sad.

What happened to that mom?

Unlike Ryan and Rebecca Holets, the mother of that child was never given a name. In President Trump's story, she gives up her child - and we never see her again.

The opioid epidemic is, indeed, a serious crisis.

But in many cases, we see a lot of people left behind in policy solutions. Most of the time, addicts are the victims.

Substance abuse destroys lives. It impacts the ability of those who suffer from it to hold jobs, to take care of their health, to parent their children, and to participate meaningfully in the world around them. But in many cases, treatment is too difficult for them to access. It is expensive, limited, and sometimes criminalizes those who try to seek it. But according to President Trump's speech, helping addicts is not the policy priority.

"We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge." It sounds like President Trump's aim is to continue to criminalize those impacted by substance abuse, while leaving positive substance abuse treatment behind - not even as an afterthought.