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Heroin Orphans & The US Drug Epidemic

The heroin epidemic is creating a generation of “heroin orphans,” or the children of heroin addicts. When children are born addicted to drugs, they are removed from the care of their parents and placed into the hands of somebody else. These people may be generous, loving, and supporting towards the child, but nobody can replace the child’s parents.

Most of these children are placed with their grandparents, while others are placed with foster parents or other blood relatives. These children are left with a torn and unhappy childhood that they must work to recover from in the future.

According to an article from, 2.7 million grandparents or relatives are raising these displaced children in America. It is difficult to prove the exact correlation, but it is thought that the increase in children being raised by people other than their parents and the increase in heroin use correspond with each other.

This article also points out that the state of Kentucky has the highest rate of heroin orphans: 60,000 children live with their relative while around 8,200 are in the foster care system.

What are the repercussions for the children?

Children feel abandoned by their parents. More and more children are feeling like their parents have chosen drugs over them. They will grow up to have few or no memories of their parents and that sadness can wear on them.

Although these children have people who are taking care of them that love them, they will always have a desire to be loved and taken care of by their parents. The relationship between a child and their mother or father is different than that of a grandparent or foster parent, so many heroin orphans are left feeling deserted.

Children may have a better time accepting and understanding life’s difficult circumstances, but they may have a hard time trusting people in the future. For example, if a mother keeps returning and then disappearing in their child’s life, the inconsistency of their relationship may leave the child with trust issues.

Unconventional family structures, or families that aren’t set up as mother, father, and children, resulting in a different set up for everyday customs and holidays. Money may be tighter if there are more people in the house. Celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day becomes harder. Explaining the situation to children may be stressful. The children bringing home questions as to why their family is different from their peers at school becomes a strenuous activity.

Children are also more likely to turn to substance abuse when their parents have. Some children may not want to follow their parents’ example that they have set for them, while others fall into the cycle.

How does this hurt the caregivers financially?

Foster parents can earn between $600 to $1,200 per month per child, but grandparents don’t receive any financial support. With grandparents being stretched financially, many of these children are living in poverty. Grandparents have the opportunity to apply for services, but many of them do not.

Grandparents are raising two generations of people in their homes: their children and their grandchildren. Their homes are extremely crowded. Most of these grandparents are over the age of 60; their plans for retirement and moving South may be pushed back or prevented.

Parents overdosing

It’s sad enough when heroin orphans can’t have a relationship with their parents because they must be separated, but it’s another thing when their parents have overdosed and they are truly left as orphans.

According to an article from the, 33,091 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015. In the state of West Virginia, men have shed one year off of their life expectancy while women have shed two due to drug overdoses.

People between the ages of 25 and 34 are most likely to die of an overdose in the United States according to, and this is also the most common age range of parents who have children who are dependent on adults. Parents dying from drug overdoses are leaving more and more children labeled as true orphans.

Knowing that a parent has passed away makes it harder for a child to go through life. It can lead to anxiety, depression, declining grades in school, substance abuse of their own, and more.

How can we stop this epidemic?

Teach children the importance of staying sober, and always offer to support them in whatever they may need. If you feel like somebody you know may have an addiction, be aware of the signs and symptoms of drug abuse.

Don’t let this happen to your family. If you or a family member is suffering from addiction, help is available to you now. For more information on addiction prevention and treatment, call Safe Prevention at 1-877-503-2608.


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