Reducing Childhood Trauma May Impact Addiction, Incarceration Rates
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Reducing Childhood Trauma May Impact Addiction, Incarceration Rates

BY JOE DORMAN

With the upcoming task force formed by SB 1517, I am confident Oklahoma has taken a major step forward in overcoming the high rate of Adverse Childhood Experiences [ACEs] that impacts our residents. For those of you not familiar with ACEs, this is the study of childhood trauma and the associated health-related conditions that follow into adulthood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration as well as lifelong health and opportunity. As such, early experiences are an important public health issue.

In Oklahoma, they are particularly relevant, as multiple research organizations have consistently ranked our state as having one of the highest rates of ACEs in the nation.

The study that discovered the links to childhood trauma and adult health was the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences [ACE] Study, one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. The original ACE Study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 with two waves of data collection. Researchers pieced together the issues to document 10 types of trauma – ranging from growing up in poverty to witnessing a parent or guardian abuse drugs or alcohol – which make up ACEs.

New research, which we expect the Oklahoma task force to examine, could offer ways not only to address child well-being but also to minimize destructive behavior found in adults.

Per a recent article on the Aces Too High website, Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, has developed a connection with addiction and ACEs.

Sumrok, a family physician and former U.S. Army Green Beret who has served rural areas of Tennessee for the last 28 years, combines the latest science of addiction and applies it to his patients, most of whom are addicted to opioids – but also to alcohol, food, sex, gambling, and other such issues.

Sumrok says, “The solution to changing the illegal or unhealthy ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior of opioid addiction is to address a person’s adverse childhood experiences [ACEs] individually and in group therapy; treat people with respect; provide medication assistance in the form of buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction; and help them find a ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior that won’t kill them or put them in jail.”

If Sumork is correct, lawmakers may have another tool to help reduce the high rate of opioid addiction in Oklahoma. A report released last year by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says Oklahoma has the highest percentage of people who use prescription pain relievers for non-medical reasons.

Opioid abuse – perhaps spurred by childhood trauma – also contributes to the high rate of incarceration in our state. Oklahoma now has the highest incarceration rate in the U.S., according to a recent study by the Prison Policy Initiative – States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018, released in May.

The nonprofit’s data figures account for state prisons, local jails, federal prisoners and other systems of confinement, the Tulsa World reported. Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is 1,079 per 100,000 people, unseating Louisiana at No. 1 in the country, according to the report. Louisiana has an incarceration rate of 1,052 per 100,000 people.

These issues will be a part of what the Oklahoma task force will review, and eventually use to help guide policy changes. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy looks forward to being a part of this process.

Former state Rep. Joe Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

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July 19, 2018

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