Grandparenting and the Opioid Crisis

Opioid addiction has forced many grandparents into the role of primary caregiver for their grandchildren.

The days that I watch my grandson are wonderful, but towards the end of the day I start anxiously listening for the sound of my son-in-law’s car pulling into the driveway. It’s not that I don’t love the time I spend with Callister but let’s be honest, I’m no spring chicken and taking care of a baby is exhausting! I’m one of the fortunate grandparents; I get to love on him and spoil him, but at the end of the day his parents take over and I collapse on the couch.  For a growing number of grandparents, there is no relief at the end of the day; they are it.

The opioid crisis is in the news, but when we hear about it we don’t automatically think of a correlation with grandparenting. However, opioid addiction has created a dire need for grandparents to step in and take care of their grandchildren. Opioid is a classification of painkillers, sometimes prescription-type drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and, at the extreme end, it also includes the very powerful drug fentanyl, which is synthesized to resemble morphine and heroin. In 2015 33,000 people died from opioid overdose, and there are often children that are left behind. Many more are debilitated by their addiction and unable to properly care for their children.

Although there are many situations that force grandparents into this role—mental illness, alcohol addiction, military deployment—drug addiction, specifically opioid use, is now one of the major reasons grandparents must become surrogate parents to their grandchildren. America is in a full-blown drug crisis, and children are paying the price. After a long period of declining placements in the foster care system, the numbers increased by 30,000 between the years of 2012 and 2015. The lucky kids are the ones that get plucked out of the foster system to be taken care of by grandparents.

The toll this takes on grandparents is significant. There are often financial strains associated with trying to help the adult children battle the addiction through rehab stints and then more stress when the grandparents must take over the parenting role for the grandchildren. Legal fees, the cost of day care, counseling for the children and the normal costs that come with raising children are expenditures not planned on in the latter years. Plans for retirement are often forced to be put on hold to meet the increased financial demands.

The emotional toll is also a heavy one. Many grandparents express their disappointment with their adult children but know they must focus on keeping their grandchildren safe and trying to give them the best life possible. The children almost always come from stressful, difficult situations and need patience, time, and lots of love. Becoming a parent to their grandchildren robs them of the role they had anticipated—being a fun, indulgent grandparent that spoils them and sends them home. That dream is gone.

Having the energy to raise a child is also a concern. Trying to keep up with young children while dealing with the physical stresses of aging can be difficult. Taking care of a two year old when you’re twenty or thirty is a completely different ballgame than when you’re sixty!

Although the current White House is discussing plans to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, there is no immediate strategy for dealing with the problem. Complicating the issue is the strength of the pharmaceutical companies’ lobbies, the legitimate need for many for prescription opioids and lack of funds to provide treatment for drug addictions. In the absence of a solution for the opioid crisis, many innocent children will be left without parents to care for them and thankfully, there will be brave, loving grandparents that step in to provide a safe haven.

There is a Facebook group that provides support to grandparents that are raising their grandchildren due to drug addiction.  It is called “The Addict’s Mom Grandparent2Grandparent.”

Categories: Grand Life