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A face of heroin: Betty's story

heroin use
heroin use
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A face of heroin: Betty’s story

Writers note: According to the 2005 American Communities Survey, there are an estimated 5.7 million grandparents living with grandchildren in their households. There are different reasons for this phenomenon, but the increase in addiction and drug problems are some of the main reasons. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 4.5 million children are living in grandparent-headed homes. This is a 30 percent increase from 1990. Most grandparents raising grandchildren are between 55 and 64. This is Betty’s story. (Names have been changed to protect privacy of the families)

On Monday, in Media, PA, the Domestic Relations department was busy as usual. For one grandmother it was not an ordinary day. Betty, was awaiting a decision that would grant her permanent custody of her granddaughter, Amanda. The judge decided that if Betty’s daughter Jane, should still have parental rights. Jane has not even seen her daughter in a year and had all but abandoned her after years of drug abuse. The judge agreed that Jane’s parental rights were to be terminated, but it was a bittersweet victory for Betty. She is still dealing with the anger and grief she feels for her own daughter, but Betty knows she has to be there for her granddaughter. After all, her daughter was an adult. Betty and her granddaughter are a living example of how heroin not only affects the users but their families as well.

When Betty graduated high school in the late 70’s she imagined her life and her future. She knew, even then, she wanted to get married and to have a family. So when she married and started her own family she never imagined she would end up raising her baby’s babies in her 50’s, but that’s what happened when her youngest daughter all but abandoned her own daughter due to her drug addiction to heroin.

"Why would your daughter abandon her child? Betty asked? “Because the drugs are more powerful than your family,” Betty explains, “My daughter, had drug problems going back to her teens. When she became pregnant, I hoped and prayed she would stop then she did. She was never with the father so she tried to have the baby on her own, but when Amanda (Betty’s granddaughter) turned 3, Jane went back to her old ways. This time, though, the drug had such a hold on her. I couldn’t even see my own daughter in the body she had become. Heroin is so powerful that no one or nothing is as important as getting that drug.”
Betty will never forget what happened. She received a phone early in the morning from Children and Youth Services telling her that her granddaughter Amanda had been placed with them after her daughter Jane was arrested for trying to shoplift at a supermarket and then tried to run from the police. Jane had left Amanda at home alone sleeping while she went out to steal. “I was shocked at first. I never thought she would be so careless with her daughter’s life but Jane had no conscience in regards to who she was hurting.” Children and Youth Service asked if Betty if she would like Amanda to be placed with her or should they place Amanda with foster care parents. Of course she would take her granddaughter to live with her.
Soon Betty found out it was not so easy to just raise your grandchild. There were legal hurdles to overcome. Jane still had rights being Amanda’s mother. Betty had to go to court several times to be awarded custody of her granddaughter. All the while, Betty was concerned about Amanda’s mindset. “I didn’t know what she was thinking. I was scared for her. I didn’t want her to feel abandoned because of what her mom did but it was difficult. When she started school I was worried because I thought Amanda would feel different from the other kids. That didn’t happen though. The teachers and everyone at the school was very supportive. Amanda actually made friends with other kids who lived with their grandparents.”

In fact Amanda isn’t alone. According to AARP, the number of children living in households maintained by the grandparents increase by more than 44% between 1990 and 2006, There are now more that 6.7 million children in the nation now growing up in these unique “grandfamilies”. AARP also cited in a survey that 49% of the grandparents serve as the primary caregivers for over 2 years. Grandparents raising grandchildren may also experience stress in dealing with their adult children. For example, Betty had to have her daughter removed from her home when she showed up either high or intoxicated to see Amanda. Betty worries what effect this has on her granddaughter and lastly she worries what would happen to Amanda if something happened to her. “I have talked to other family members who would step in to help but I hate to see how that would affect Amanda. I worry about her every day.”

Betty has found support through the AARP and online support groups. There are multiple support groups out there such as, the Pennsylvania The Family Caregiver Support Program(www. and Grandsplace (

Betty remarks, “It is isn't easy that’s for sure. But there is help out there. Would I do it all over again? You betcha!

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