CLEVELAND, Ohio – Thousands of people in Ohio have died from opioid overdoses in the last ten years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2017, 4,293 people died as a result of overdoses involving prescription and synthetic opioids and heroin.
The massive number of deaths has left thousands of children without their parents.
Some are put into foster care, but in many cases grandparents are stepping up to take responsibility.
Mildra Kelly, 65, lives in Cleveland and is raising her 13-year-old grandson, Brian.
“It was real, real hard for me to accept that my daughter had gotten so caught up into her drug addiction that she couldn’t be a mother to her child,” Mildra explained.
When Mildra realized her grandson’s life could be in danger she fought to get custody of him and still remembers what she told the clerk at the courthouse.
“I’m not going to wait for my grandson to die or get killed for you all to find the dead beat dad, that is your problem, not mine, I’m filing,” she recounted.
Like many grandparents, Mildra put aside the slowness and freedom that often comes with the golden years and took on parenthood for a second time.
“The things that you dreamed that you would do they go out the window because now you’re starting all over again, plus you’re much older,” she said. “It’s like wow, I got to change all of this. And I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but I’m going to try my best,” she continued.
It’s families like the Kelly's that lead Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and a group of bipartisan lawmakers to step in to pass the “Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act”.
“Far too many grandparents are unexpectedly raising grandchildren they didn’t necessarily prepare for it. Their health may not be as good, they may have to go back to work as a result,” Senator Brown said.
The law creates an advisory council made up of grandparents and childcare advocates to inform congress how best to help families impacted by opioids.
“Get them together, get their collective wisdom to tell congress and the state legislature and then the county what is the best approach,” Brown said.
Mildra says she knows many grandparents who are in the same position as she is but struggle with the daily challenges of a growing child and an aging parent.
Some of the grandparents are so overwhelmed because these kids are drug addicted kids,” explains Mildra. Her grandson Brian has learning and behavioral challenges as a result of his mother’s drug use, but she has not let that hold him back.
“I’m so glad I have a grandma with me cause she’s been through a lot with me she’s been trying to teach me to calm down, teach me how to write, even teach me how to read,” Brian said.
With less money and less energy to raise Brian, Mildra found out she had liver cancer and only a year live.
That diagnosis was five years ago.
Today she feels good and is sending her grandson off to school.
“I don’t have time to sit back and have a pity party. I have to stay strong so I can take care of him,” Mildra said.