Grandparents’ Rights in Pennsylvania Series – Part 2: The Beginning of the Epidemic

The Increase to Grandparent Involvement in Raising Kids May Be Linked Back to a Flood of Prescription Pills into the Marketplace.

(See Part 1 in our series here.)

In the next article in our series, we discuss the beginning of the opioid crisis and the interplay with grandparents’ rights in Pennsylvania.

Not So Humble Beginnings

The beginning of the opioid crisis was not slow. A recent article in the Washington Post outlines the severity of the beginning of the prescription pain pill epidemic in the United States. From 2006 to 2012, pharmaceutical companies flooded the market with over 86 billion pain pills. What were the numbers for southwest Pennsylvania? DEA data shows that in Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties, nearly 40 pills were distributed per person per year. That number isn’t for every person prescribed the medication. It is for every person in the county. With a population of roughly 1.2 million people in Allegheny County alone, this averages to over 47 million pain pills prescribed from 2006 to 2012 in Allegheny County alone every year.

Increases in Opioid Overdoses

Overdose deaths have increased in recent years. From 2016 to 2017, the drug overdose rate in Pennsylvania increased nearly 17%. The majority of overdose deaths involved an opioid. While data indicates overdose deaths may start declining due to the prevalence of NarCan, the abuse issue still exists.

And the epidemic is not limited to prescription pills. A Pennsylvania Senate Report indicates that data shows nearly 80% of people that reported using heroin started with prescription pain pills. Heroin is considered an opioid. And the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that several studies have indicated prescription pain pill use has opened the door for heroin use. Some people even switched to heroin because it was cheaper than prescription pills.

Grandparents on the Frontlines

Grandparents bear much of the burden of caring for children through the opioid crisis. When parents who are struggling with addiction are absent, other family members have to step into the role as parents. The frequent result is that grandparents raise their grandkids. The data for the “grandfamilies” epidemic is not as readily available. However, State Representative Eddie Pashinski estimates that there are around 83,000 grandparents in Pennsylvania caring for around 89,000 grandchildren. Some of those likely have nothing to do with the opioid epidemic. However, the issue is apparently so significant that the Pennsylvania Legislature adopted a number of laws in the Fall of 2018 to gather data surrounding the opioid crisis as it pertains to grandparents, and to give grandparents easier access to guardianship rights.

Grandparents Rights

So, what rights do grandparents have to take care of their grandchildren? The law provides a number of outlets. Pennsylvania law grants grandparents the right to sue in custody proceedings if a parent is absent or deceased. The law also gives grandparents the rights to sue for custody as a party standing in loco parentis. Additionally, a new law gives grandparents the ability to file for temporary guardianship in 90-day increments for up to 1 year in the event of a temporary absence of a parent.

All custody and guardianship issues are very fact specific. Therefore, it is best to consult with a Pittsburgh family lawyer regarding grandparents rights to map out the next steps. If you have a grandchild affected by his or her parent’s drug or alcohol abuse, contact the law firm of Dodaro, Matta, & Cambest, P.C. today at 412-243-1600 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your rights.

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