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EDITORIAL: The children of the opioid crisis

York Dispatch
This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

We've entered the next phase of the war against opioid abuse: taking care of the children.

There are three new state laws that will help grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren. 

One will allow grandparents to serve as temporary guardians of their grandchildren when the parents are not able to care for them.

The law allows grandparents or other family members to become guardians of children for 90-day increments, up to one year.

They will be able to enroll children in school, take them for medical care and perform other duties without taking away parental rights or placing the children in foster care.

The second will set up the Kinship Caregiver Navigator Program to get information on services and support that is available for grandparents taking care of their grandchildren.

The third creates a study of the trend of grandparents raising grandchildren.

The number of children living with their grandparents and not their parents has doubled since 1970 and gone up 7 percent in the past five years, according to PBS. 

In June, The Atlantic reported that 2.6 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren, a figure many attribute to the opioid crisis. 

Grandparents often struggle to raise young children while their own children struggle with substance abuse, go through treatment or are in jail.

Grandparents often raise the children in an informal "grandfamilies" arrangement with the parents that leaves the children in a sort of limbo, not enrolled in school where they live or lacking access to a doctor because the parents are not available.

“It is a tremendous undertaking for anyone to step in as a parent when a relative is struggling with addiction or cannot effectively parent for some other reason,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, when Gov. Tom Wolf signed the two bills into law this week.

And the opioid epidemic continues.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that overdose deaths are starting to plateau, health Secretary Alex Azar said. There was a 10 percent increase in overdoses between 2016 and 2017, with 70,000 deaths attributed to overdoses in 2017 and 48,000 of those attributed to opioids.

For the first three months of the year, the number of deaths increased by 3 percent. 

It's not a decrease in deaths, but slowing down the pace of overdoses is at least a start. 

And this epidemic is one of the few issues that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can agree on.

The new state laws were crafted by Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and Kathy Watson, R-Bucks County. President Donald Trump was expected to sign bipartisan legislation this week to increase access to treatment.

Have we won the opioid war? Of course not. People are still dying from overdoses, children are still losing their parents, parents are losing their children. Every day, first responders in York County are called out for suspected overdoses. 

But these steps will bring us closer to the goal. And for now, these steps are what we have to do.