The number of Northern New Mexico residents seeking custody of abused and neglected children born to relatives had been growing steadily over the past decade, but that growth has skyrocketed in the last two years.

People who work in the state’s family courts system say substance abuse — primarily opiate addiction — is to blame for the more than 70 percent increase in kinship guardianship cases between 2014 and 2016. Unless the epidemic is addressed, they say, generations of the region’s children will continue to suffer.

Stephen Stone, director of Family Court Services for the First Judicial District, which includes Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, estimates that about 90 percent of the applications for relatives seeking custody of a child are tied to substance abuse by one or both parents.