COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Joe Smith did not picture raising his granddaughter at age 66, but when his daughter’s substance use disorder meant she couldn’t care for her child, that’s where Smith and his wife found themselves nineteen years ago.
That brought all the costs that come with a new baby in the house, like clothes, a crib, a third mouth to feed — and sometimes a fourth, when Smith’s daughter lived with them on and off. His granddaughter’s father provided no child support. When Smith and his wife finally gained legal custody of their granddaughter, Olivia, Smith had missed countless hours of work as a construction electrician to attend court hearings and attorney meetings.
“You don’t get paid sick days... They expect you to be there every day. They don’t care what goes on in your personal life. I mean, at least the companies I was working for,” said Smith, who runs a weekly peer support group for parents of those struggling with addiction in Columbus, Ohio.
Smith’s story isn’t unique. Family members across the country are facing new financial burdens as children, parents or other relatives struggle with the disease of addiction, whether it’s missing work, blowing through their savings or becoming parents again well into their 60s and 70s. The costs can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, treatment stays, damaged property and countless other unforeseen expenses.
The opioid crisis alone cost the U.S. economy $631 billion from 2015 through 2018, according to a study from the Society of Actuaries. That amount has almost certainly increased as there has been little relief in the opioid crisis during the last five years. Overdose deaths increased in 2022, though only slightly, after a massive spike during the first years of the pandemic.
The study also found that just one-third of those billions is borne by the government, with the remainder falling on the shoulders of individuals and the private sector.
In Ohio, an epicenter of the opioid crisis, the state’s Department of Commerce is taking a one-of-its-kind approach to aiding families financially impacted by addiction, by making sure the people handling their money are educated about it.
This summer, the department launched the first trainings in its “Recovery Within Reach” program for financial advisers, teaching them how to spot the signs of addiction in their clients’ families and direct them to state and private resources that can help relieve the heavy monetary burden.
When surveyed by the department, 45% of Ohio’s financial advisers said they were aware of a client of theirs, or a client’s family member, that was struggling with addiction.
But that number is likely much higher, according to Ohio Securities Commissioner Andrea Seidt, as one in 13 Ohioans have a substance use disorder. The stigma of addiction, especially coupled with a conversation about money, could be keeping people from disclosing their struggles, even to someone they trust.
“The more we talk about it and every industry starts talking about it, the more successful we will be in combating the stigma and the more comfortable people will be reaching out and getting the treatment they need,” Seidt said.
In the program, financial advisers are taught to look for certain signs. These include large, unexpected withdrawals from their clients’ accounts, late or missing payments on important bills, recurring accidents or injuries, skyrocketing insurance rates or sudden custody of a minor family member.
Recovery Within Reach also has an information hub on its website. Those seeking help can input their insurance status and treatment needs to be to connected to affordable programs and those offering financial help.