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Opioid crisis places strain on grandparents forced to raise their grandchildren

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 17. 2018 9:29PM
Grandparents Rosemary and Denis Nugent of Antrim share their story during a forum with Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, at New Futures in Concord on Monday morning. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan held a roundtable discussion Monday with New Hampshire residents who took over raising their grandchildren as the children’s parents battled addiction.

Hassan, D-NH, said the growing number of grandparents who have resumed parenting duties again is another example of the widespread effects the opioid crisis is having on families in New Hampshire and throughout the country.

“They were on track for retirement. They had their retirement savings in place. They had a plan. All of a sudden, they had to step in and be parents for their grandchildren,” Hassan said. “I have been hearing about this from every corner of the state from families with diverse backgrounds and experiences.”

Hassan spent an hour discussing the issue and hearing the stories of three Granite Staters who assumed guardianship of their grandchildren because of the opioid epidemic. The roundtable at New Futures, a non-profit health policy and advocacy group based in Concord, also included representatives from support groups and services helping “grandfamilies” adjust.

Diane Yeo, of Henniker, spoke about her son’s addiction to painkillers, which he was prescribed after having surgery. When his wife started using with him, Yeo said she knew she had to take in their daughter and son.

“All our stories are very unique. There’s not one catch-all that can fix this whole problem,” she said.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, speaks with grandparents impacted by the opioid epidemic at a forum at New Futures in Concord on Monday morning. Also pictured is president of New Futures Michele Merritt. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Yeo had custody of the children for two years, using her retirement savings to pay for an attorney, while the parents fought addiction. Yeo said her son and daughter-in-law are now in a medically supervised recovery program and the kids are back at home, but the possibility of a relapse is always on her mind.

“I suffer from PTSD, though, because I’m constantly afraid that we’re going to have this situation again or worse,”

Yeo shared her story after Rosemary and Denis Nugent, of Antrim, discussed raising their grandson basically from birth as his parents struggled with addiction. Now a fourth-grader, the boy hardly remembers his parents.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, speaks with grandparents impacted by the opioid epidemic at a forum at New Futures in Concord on Monday morning. Also pictured is President of New Futures Michele Merritt. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Rosemary Nugent said the couple has had their will rewritten to have their other son assume custody of the boy if anything happens to them. They were also thankful for peer support groups that showed the couple they were far from alone.

Hassan said it’s important to recognize the sacrifices grandparents are making for the good of their grandchildren.

“This is not easy stuff to discuss in public and I understand that,” Hassan said. “But when you do, it makes a real difference for other people, too, so I’m very, very grateful.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, (top center at left) and President of New Futures Michele Merritt look at each other at a forum with grandparents and care givers impacted by the opioid epidemic at New Futures in Concord on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Hassan, who was scheduled to fly back to Washington for a Senate vote after the roundtable discussion, mentioned the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, signed into law in July, as progress in a battle that has so many fronts.

“The steps we are taking are really good, important steps but we are not done with this at all,” Hassan said. “These are first steps. The urgency of this crisis continues and one of my concerns is that we haven’t had a federal response that has matched the urgency on the ground.”

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