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The Opioid Epidemic and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Dinah Torres Castro

During the weeks leading up to Election Day, my mailbox was flooded with ads promoting various candidates running for office in Suffolk County. There was one in particular that caught my eye. The headline read, “Suffolk County Leads New York State with the Highest Rate of Overdose Deaths.” It went on to report facts about the opioid epidemic and its effects on the residents of our county. For years I have been working with grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Although they have different stories and circumstances that bring them to our support group, the fact is that an increasing number of grandparents and relatives (kinship caregivers) are raising their grandchildren and relatives because of the opioid epidemic. The Shirley Grandparents’ Support Group meets at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library once a month during the school year. At these meetings they share their heartbreaking stories, and they ask for help in the form of resources, support, tears, and laughter. Over the years this group has become a source of comfort, information, and friendships as the participants find common threads that bring them together.

As one of the facilitators of the group, I work with them to generate ideas, and bring in guest speakers and resources to help meet their needs. Recently, Tina Wolf presented on opioid overdose prevention. She also provided training on the use of naloxone (Narcan) and each grandparent received a Narcan kit to take home. Ms. Wolf is the Executive Director of Community Action for Social Justice, a nonprofit organization that fosters improved health and quality of life for Long Islanders who are impacted by drug use, incarceration, homelessness, and chronic disease. This is accomplished through participant-centered services and policy advocacy in an effort to reduce broader social and structural barriers.

The opioid epidemic has greatly impacted this group in a variety of ways: the grandchildren have been exposed to the trauma of parental substance abuse or to opioids before birth; the grandchildren need therapy and extra care to thrive; the grandparents, many of whom are on limited incomes, find themselves overwhelmed by fighting an uphill battle to put the pieces of their lives back together while caring for their grandchildren; and the adult children are caught in this struggle with opioid addiction. For now, there are no easy answers. Politicians promise us multi-layered responses as solutions to this problem, including education, treatment, and federal law enforcement assistance.

For grandparents and relative caregivers caught in this opioid epidemic, our Relatives As Parents Program (RAPP) offers support group meetings where they can get information, resources, and support. Many of our first time participants feel comforted knowing that they are not alone. This spring we will be offering the Parenting the Second Time Around (PASTA) program. If you want to learn more about our programs for grandparents and kinship caregivers, please contact:

Dinah Torres Castro

RAPP Coordinator

Bilingual Family Well-being Educator

For more information on the Shirley Grandparents’ Support Group:

Raising the Children of the Opioid Epidemic: Solutions and Support for Grandfamilies.

For more information on Community Action for Social Justice:

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at


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