(CN) – Amid an ongoing public health crisis, the Census Bureau has found that grandparents are raising children more often in states with higher opioid prescription rates, particularly in the South.
Using census data from 2012 to 2016, researchers discovered in a study released Monday that four states in particular – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi – had both the highest prescription rates for opioids and the highest rates of grandparents over 30 years old raising their grandchildren.
For example, Alabama had the highest opioid prescription rate in the U.S. with 121 prescriptions per 100 residents, according to Census Bureau data. It also had one of the highest rates of grandparents raising grandchildren, at 2.2%.
Arkansas was the second highest in opioid prescription rates at 114.6 per
100 residents, and also reportedly has 2.2% of grandparents raising their grandchildren.
Though Mississippi had a slightly lower opioid prescription rate at 105.6 per 100 people, the state had the highest rate of grandparents raising grandchildren – 2.9%.
Opioid prescription rates managed to stay below 100 in Louisiana (98.1), but the state also has 2.2% of grandparents raising children, according to the study.
In contrast, states like Minnesota were below the U.S. averages for both opioid prescription rates (66.5 per 100 residents) and rates of grandparents raising children (1.4%). The data shows Minnesota had 46.9 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents and just 0.7% of grandparents raising children.
Showing the correlation between opioids and grandparents becoming primary caregivers, the study painted a grim picture of opioids’ reverberating effects on families affected by the public health crisis.
Census Bureau analyst Lydia Anderson wrote a working paper on this connection, explaining that the driving factors behind the correlation was that parents with opioid abuse problems were often incarcerated, in rehabilitation programs or otherwise incapable of caring for their children.
According to the paper, the correlation stood out due to a lack of correlation between grandparents as primary caregivers and economic downturns. Anderson explained that “while there was an increase in the percentage of children living with their grandparents after the Great Recession, there was not a corresponding increase in grandparents who were responsible for their grandchildren.”
In other words, economic factors may drive grandparents to take in grandchildren, but unlike the opioid crisis, they did not create a situation where grandparents became the primary caregivers themselves.
Though the study pointed to a link between the opioid epidemic and a generational shift in parenting duties, it did not provide answers about regional disparities.
Comparing data maps regarding both prescription rates and rates of grandparents as primary caregivers revealed that the South was the focal point of this intersection, but the study provided no underlying reasons why.