Save a Generation,
Save Our Children!

Three generations of one family.

Our headlines are peppered with news about opioids, marijuana and recently, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. You can now find stories just about every day about overdose deaths, drug-related crime or violence, drug seizures or government actions to fight the problem.

Overdose death rates, by age group.
Overdose death rates, by age group. 

While all this is happening, we’re at serious risk for losing an entire generation to this widespread and vicious enemy. And because those who most frequently lose their lives to drug overdoses are in their childbearing or parenting years, this loss has enormous impact on the next generation (see the chart to the right).

Grandparents Stepping Up to the Plate

Around the country, the phenomenon is so common: grandparents who must take their grandchildren into their homes because of an overdose death, incarceration or neglect due to a parent’s addiction.

In Vermont, Jeanette Birch lost her son Gary to opioids. “We are losing a generation of young adults,” she said.

In Maine, the director of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine says, “Grandparents don’t raise their children thinking, ‘Now I’m going to get to raise my grandchildren.’” But nationally, more than 2.9 million grandparents are doing just that, a number that has increased 400,000 since 2005.

A grandfather reads to his grandson.

In New Jersey, Margaret Castro-Saavedra is raising her two-year old granddaughter after both the child’s mother and father died of overdoses. Rose and Chris Boehle, both in their 50s, are raising three children—their daughter’s two children conceived during her heroin addiction and the daughter’s step-son, all of whom were removed from the home by social services. Robin Raville, raising her infant grandson after her son succumbed to an overdose, said, “We’re raising a generation of children that are not going to have their parents. And we’re losing a generation of children.”

Every Year, Increasing Losses

When the numbers are totaled for each new year, the number of people we are losing to drugs climbs higher. Take a look at the number of Americans we’re losing every single day and the way this number keeps going up.

  • 2016: 174
  • 2015: 144
  • 2014: 129

Here’s some daily figures from earlier years.

  • 2008: 100
  • 2005: 82
  • 2002: 64
  • 1999: 46

Let that sink in for a moment. In 1999, we lost 46 people a day from drug overdoses of all types. While dreadful, that’s still less than one person in each U.S. state per day. Now, the number is nearly four times as high.

What’s even worse is that the totals for 2017, when they are compiled, promise to be even higher. That’s according to monthly reporting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These numbers keep going up despite the use of thousands of doses of naloxone as antidotes to the deadly effects of opioids.

What Can You Do About it?

Here’s a very important piece of advice that might be a little hard for you to accept. No matter what the age, if a loved one is having a problem in life, look right at it and see it for what it is.

  • Have they lost a number of jobs?
  • Developed repeated (and mysterious) health problems?
  • Suddenly starting having problems with debts or run-ins with the law?
  • Are they short of money and repeatedly asking to borrow from you?
  • Are their relationships deteriorating? With you, their friends, a spouse, significant other or work?
  • Have they had a number of car accidents or other mishaps?
  • Do they act like they did when they were making plans for the future and were excited about the present or do they seem troubled?
  • Are they always making excuses, one after another?

If signs of trouble are showing up, the chances are very good that drug use or addiction are at the source of the problems. Sure, it could be something else like a severe setback, really bad breakup or someone harassing them but you need to find out.

A man is weighed down by his addiction and the problems it causes.

Here’s another important thing to note: What do they actually look like right now? 

Step back and take a careful look at them. Do they look healthy? Is their color good or not? Are there circles around their eyes? Do they look they are enjoying life and looking forward to their future or just the opposite? What does their home look like? Their car? Are they messy and damaged? Do they look like they are not taking care of themselves? And is there no good reason you know of for a change for the worse?

It’s hard for families to face the idea that someone they have loved all their lives could now be using drugs. Worse, that they could be addicted. And for some people, the idea that their loved one could be addicted to a drug like heroin is incomprehensible.

This means that some parents simply can’t bear to know the truth. They won’t ask. They avoid the question, skirt the issue. But these days, avoidance is deadly.

If your loved one is addicted, the sooner you take action, the better your chances of saving their life. You may have to ask for the help of your family doctor to find out the real situation. If your loved one adamantly refuses a drug test and won’t give you answers to your questions, you must act fast to find out more because something is definitely wrong. Try bringing other family members together to support you in your effort to get to the bottom of the situation.

We must save this next generation of parents so they will be there to raise their children, watch them graduate from school and go on to have their own children. By saving these young parents, we enable our very youngest Americans to grow up in safe, healthy and happier homes.



For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.