There is more that can be done about the opioid crisis in Massachusetts that is effective, non-punitive and free to the taxpayer. Governor Charlie Baker’s commendable leadership on this surging problem has resulted in the passage of legislation strengthening prescribing laws and increasing education. This is important. But a powerful opportunity has so far been overlooked.
A clue is to be found in federal statistics: 75 percent of children in chemical abuse centers have been raised by single parents. This is no criticism of single parents who are trying hard, but strongly suggests that parenting arrangements do matter. Abundant research confirms this hunch. While out-of-wedlock births and separation and divorce of parents are likely to continue at high rates, the research shows that shared parenting when parents are apart is associated with lower drug abuse rates, as well as many other improvements for children.
Shared parenting is an arrangement in which the children of parents living apart spend at least 35% of the time with each parent, and as close to equal time as possible; it is not appropriate unless both parents are fit and there has been no significant domestic violence.
This solution requires only a small change in the custody laws. In fact, the Massachusetts House passed such a law last year, but the Senate took no action before adjourning for the year. The reformed custody bill was written by a blue-ribbon Working Group previously appointed by Governor Deval Patrick on which I was honored to serve. Prospects for the bill this year are uncertain. Opposition from the politically powerful bar associations, whose members profit from unnecessary custody battles, remains a major factor.