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Grandparents step in as 'silent voice' of opioid epidemic

Posted July 25

— Jeanne Connolly, 58, was thinking about retirement. That all changed when her daughter became addicted to opioids and walked away, leaving Connolly to care for her granddaughter, Kevie Grae.

"This was not my choice to raise her because who wants to do this all over again at 58," Connolly said. "It was my decision, and it was a decision grandparents make out of love."

Her days are now filled with preschool, play dates, carpools and cartoons.

"We're the new breed," Connolly joked. "I call myself ‘MNM,’ you know what that is, a mom nana mom."

Jeanne Connolly and granddaughter

While there is love and laughter, there is also an emotional and financial void.

"You have daycare and you have laundry and you have dinner to make and books to read and you've got time to set aside for her and you're like, 'How am I gonna do this?' How do you do this?’," Connolly said.

It can be lonely, but Connolly is not alone.

As the number of opioid-related deaths skyrocketed nearly 75 percent in the last decade, so has the number of grandparents stepping in to care for the children left behind. More than 2.6 million grandparents in the nation fill that role. Nearly 100,000 of those are in North Carolina.

The number of children left to foster care because of their parents' drug abuse has risen 6 percent in the last 5 years. While other reasons, including alcohol abuse, abandonment and incarceration, have remained steady, or have dropped.

The bipartisan Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, currently under debate in the senate, would create a federal task force to coordinate resources for senior citizens.

Senator Thom Tillis sits on the Committee on Aging.

"This crisis cannot go unchecked," he said. "We have to do everything we can to get resourced, get awareness and get tools into the hands of the caregiver."

Connolly said while she learns the new normal, she is writing a book. She hopes it will resonate with others who find themselves in the same position.

"I'm probably better now than I've ever been because it comes in the smallest of packages, it's Miss Kevie Grae," Connolly said.

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