Opioid epidemic creates generation of orphans as parents choose drugs over kids

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LEXINGTON, Kentucky — In 2016 alone, more than 30,000 people in America died from opioid and heroin overdoses. One of the hardest hit states is Ohio. A new report shows opioid deaths in Ohio rose by 36 percent from 2015 to 2016, and coroners say this year’s numbers are outpacing last year’s, leaving some without room for the dead in their morgues. And this isn’t just happening in Ohio. The number of children left orphaned or abandoned by their parents has skyrocketed.

Sandra and Michael Flynn, ages 64 and 73, affectionately known as Grandma and Poppy, are raising five grandchildren in a cramped, colorful home in Lexington, Kentucky that’s equal parts chaos and love.

Willa, 16, is the oldest. When Willa was 10, Sandra’s own daughter, Willa’s mother “disappeared.”

“No one knew where she was,” Sandra Flynn said.

Flynn’s daughter’s youngest children were born addicted to drugs.

“The state came in and said she could not care of them anymore, and they called and asked us if we would take all five, and we said ‘of course,'” Sandra Flynn said.

An estimated three million kids in America are being raised by someone other than their mom and dad.

The opioid epidemic has hit Kentucky hard. More than 68,000 children there are being taken care of by grandparents, relatives or foster parents.

“They’ve been abandoned. They’ve been forgotten in a lot of ways, in preference for the drugs,” Mary Jo Dendy, resource center coordinator said.

“It has to impact them. There’s always going to be a want, a need — something they didn’t get from mom,” Sandra Flynn said.

“I know she cared about me. She used to be a really sweet person. But now I don’t know. I learn to accept it where I am right now,” Willa said.

In another part of Lexington, Kathy Allen cares for her grandchildren, Kayla and Madison. Now 14 and 16, the sisters were small when they were initially placed in foster care.

“It was terrible,” Kayla Allen said of her childhood. “When you think about childhood, you think about happy things, but there wasn’t really any.”

According to Generations United, nearly 40% of grandparents caring for grandchildren are over the age of 60. One in five lives below the poverty line.

Kayla and Madison Allen are in touch with their father, who is in prison.

They’re part of a generation of children who feel abandoned by their parents, who they believe chose drugs over them.