The first casualty of America’s opioid epidemic beyond the users themselves? The American family. As Julia Lurie reports at Mother Jones, while mom and dad are nodding out and overdosing in record numbers, the kids are going into an under-funded foster care system struggling to handle the sheer volume of children who need food, shelter, clothing, and above all, stability.
Long before the social workers showed up in his living room this March, Matt McLaughlin, a 16-year-old with diabetes, had taken to a wearying evening routine: trying to scrounge up enough spare change for food while his mom, Kelly, went to a neighbor’s house to use heroin. On a good night, the bookish high school junior would walk through his neighborhood in Andover, Ohio, a Rust Belt town surrounded by fields and trailer parks, to pick up frozen pizza from the Family Dollar. On a bad night, he’d play video games to distract himself from his grumbling stomach and dipping blood sugar, and wait for Kelly to return with glazed eyes.
It wasn’t always this way. When Matt was little, Kelly was a Head Start caseworker who patiently taught parents how to manage their autistic children. She loved hosting potlucks with friends and playing Barbie with Matt’s sister, Brianna. There was always music: Tchaikovsky when Kelly was at the piano, or Jimmy Buffett blasting through the speakers while she cooked. “Growing up, we were the house that everyone wanted to come to,” remembered Brianna, now 20. “I loved every minute of it.”
It’s hard to overstate just how pervasive the epidemic feels here. Detective Taylor Cleveland, who investigates drug cases in Ashtabula, told me, “I’m dealing with some ruined home two and three times a day.” Cleveland, who coaches youth soccer and recently adopted a 17-year-old player whose mom overdosed, leads a task force that responds to every overdose in the county. Once, he arrived at an overdose scene only to realize that the victim slouched over in the motel room was his cousin, whose young daughter had called 911. “Every OD that happens, I get a text. I’ve gotten two texts while we’ve been talking.” We’d been talking for less than an hour.