As the opioid epidemic continues to sweep across the United States, children are finding themselves at the center of the crisis.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, new foster cases involving drug-addicted parents have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record keeping. In 2016, 92,000 children entered the foster care system.
One of those 92,000 children is Eli. From the looks of it, he seems like any other boy, and to an extent, he is. But, at one point in time, he tested positive for drugs.
"When I got him at four months, he reeked of some sort of substance," said Tiffany Eggers, his adopted mother. "It literally took a week to get this horrible smell out of his hair, our of his saliva, out of his feces, out of his urine."
The Eggers family took Eli in after his birth parents struggled with addiction and couldn't take care of him.
"He was just very colicky, he would scream but now I look back on it I realize he was just traumatized," Eggers added.
Though substance abuse has always been an issue fore child welfare officials, it's never been seen at this scale since the use of cocaine surged in the 1980s. In Indiana alone, drug-related foster care cases shot up more than sixfold between 2000 and 2015. For medical professionals, the results of the epidemic are beginning to yield unexpected consequences.
"When I came to Indiana I was floored at what I saw here."
As a maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Tara Benjamin of Riley Children's Health cares for women with high-risk pregnancies, including mothers who are addicted to drugs.
"When I walked in the labor and delivery unit, they had a list of patients with the title, 'do not prescribe,' and it meant, if these women called they are probably seeking so do not prescribe -- I had never heard of that in life. To me that was an indicator of how bad this epidemic was here."
Shawnee Wilson is one of those mothers fighting to get her fourth son, Kingston, who was born just over a year ago, back from foster care. She gave birth to him after exposing him to heroin, and it took about a month to wean him off the drugs.
At 26, she's trying to beat heroin, with the hopes of one day gaining custody of her son. Kingston is what keeps Wilson going during the darkest days of her recovery.
"It's hard," she said. "It was harder at first as I was still struggling with addiction, but now, it's making me stronger for when he comes home."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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