Opioids also played a role in nearly 40 percent of parental rights termination cases
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that a recent internal survey found almost half of child dependency cases and about 40 percent of parental rights termination cases handled by the Attorney General’s Office are impacted by opioid abuse.
Assistant Attorneys General who handle child abuse and neglect cases around the state were asked in July to estimate what percentage of their caseload was impacted by opioid abuse in the last year. At the time of the survey, the Attorney General’s Office was handling about 6,800 child dependency cases and nearly 1,100 termination cases.
A dependent child is one who has been abandoned, abused or severely neglected by their guardian, or has no parent or guardian capable of adequately caring for the child, such that the child is in danger. Each year, thousands of children in Washington state are victims of abuse, severe neglect or abandonment and are placed in the care of the state by the courts. When safe reunification with the parents is not possible, a legal proceeding to terminate parental rights must be initiated to give the child the opportunity for a permanent adoptive home.
The Office of the Attorney General advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children in termination and dependency proceedings across the state. The Attorney General’s Office dedicates more Assistant Attorneys General to abused and neglected children than any other single practice area.
“This survey confirms what we long suspected: Opioids have a devastating impact on Washington families,” Ferguson said. “The state must do more to combat this epidemic. Future generations of Washingtonians are at stake.”
Seventy-six Assistant Attorneys General from around the state — from Seattle to Spokane, Bellingham to Kennewick — responded to the survey during the last two weeks of July. The attorneys estimated that opioid abuse impacted 47.9 percent of their dependency cases. The attorneys estimated that the epidemic impacted 39.9 percent of their parental rights termination caseload.
Work on the opioid epidemic
In June of 2017, the Attorney General’s Office hosted a summit on Washington’s opioid epidemic, in partnership with the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
A report developed by the three organizations after the summit included a range of recommendations, several of which became the subject of Attorney General Ferguson’s request legislation in the 2018 legislative session. Unfortunately, proposals to limit first-time prescriptions of opioids and to require that doctors check the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) database for evidence of misuse or dangerous prescribing patterns before prescribing opioids failed to pass the Legislature.
Instead, the five boards and commissions that regulate medical and dental providers who prescribe opioids are in the process of developing new rules that will limit acute opioid prescriptions and require providers to check the PMP. However, the current proposals vary between the different boards and commissions, and fall short of the Attorney General’s request legislation.
For example, the current proposals do not require medical doctors or dentists to check the PMP the first time they prescribe opioids, when it can make the most difference in stopping dangerous prescriptions from getting in the wrong hands. Nearly all of the proposed rules also do not differentiate between minor and major medical procedures, creating the potential for leftover pills to be available for misuse. Only the dental commission’s proposal sets more stringent standards for youth.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Dan Jackson, Acting Communications Director, (360) 753-2716; DanJ1@atg.wa.gov