Opi­oid cri­sis hits home with grand­par­ents

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION - THOMAS FRIEDMAN JEN­NIFER RU­BIN ME­GAN McARDLE

The death toll con­tin­ues to mount and the an­cil­lary dam­age from the opi­oid ad­dic­tion cri­sis con­tin­ues to bore ever deeper into the so­ci­ety.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, the num­ber of moth­ers giv­ing birth while ad­dicted to opi­oids rose from 1.5 of ev­ery 1,000 births in 1999 to 6.5 of ev­ery 1,000 births in 2014.

In Mas­sachusetts, the state De­part­ment of Health re­ported that man­ual la­bor­ers are much more likely than other work­ers to die from an opi­oid over­dose. It cited con­struc­tion, fish­ing, farm la­bor and lum­ber­ing as high-risk oc­cu­pa­tions for opi­oid ad­dic­tion. The au­thors said work­ers in those fields of­ten face spo­radic em­ploy­ment and do not al­ways have ben­e­fits, so they take opi­oids to man­age pain from work-re­lated in­juries to keep work­ing.

And Thurs­day in Wilkes-Barre, Gov. Tom Wolf met with some peo­ple who truly have been blind­sided by opi­oid ad­dic­tion — grand­par­ents rais­ing their grand­chil­dren be­cause the kids’ par­ents are ad­dicted to opi­oids and sim­ply ab­sent, in jail or in treat­ment.

About 80,000 grand­par­ents in Penn­syl­va­nia are rais­ing their grand­chil­dren, though it is not clear ex­actly how many of those sit­u­a­tions are due to opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

For grand­par­ents who al­ready have raised one fam­ily, the bur­den is enor­mous. “I’m 55 years old but I feel 75,” Brenda of Wy­oming told the gov­er­nor. “I’m tired.”

Cus­tody is­sues in­ter­fere with ev­ery­thing from health care for kids to school en­roll­ment. Chil­dren un­der the care of their grand­par­ents of­ten are el­i­gi­ble for less state as­sis­tance than they would re­ceive in foster care.

The House has passed two bills to help grand­par­ents. One would ex­pe­dite the guardian­ship process to en­sure grand­par­ents’ le­gal author­ity re­gard­ing their grand­chil­dren. An­other would cre­ate a sin­gle web­site to guide grand­par­ents through le­gal hur­dles to avail­able ser­vices.

Due to a late, but ag­gres­sive re­sponse to the cri­sis, a new state-man­aged pre­scrip­tion track­ing sys­tem and physi­cians’ ef­forts, opi­oids pre­scrip­tions have been in de­cline, which should re­sults in fewer new addicts. And ef­forts like a state $1 mil­lion grant to the Wright Cen­ter will make treat­ment more eas­ily avail­able.

But the grand­par­ents’ plight demon­strates the long arc of the cri­sis. Law­mak­ers should do all that they can to help grand­par­ents and oth­ers af­fected by a cri­sis not of their mak­ing.

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