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Modern Family: The U.S. opioid crisis has shifted family dynamics

Paul Bertke didn’t expect to be raising young children well into his 50s.

But a barrage of prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl has inundated Dayton, Ohio, and his stepdaughter got hooked. So six years ago, Bertke and his wife, Angela, who live in the Dayton suburb of Kettering, stepped in to care for her kids.

“When we got married, she became my child, too,” says Bertke, 52. “You just want what is best for them, and it just breaks your heart to see them going down this path that you know is very deadly.”

The Bertkes are far from the only relatives pushed into a parental role for children whose actual parents are in the throes of addiction. The opioid epidemic has devastated families across the U.S., and the ripple effects – including strained household budgets and public resources – are especially visible in beleaguered communities like Dayton, the hub of an area that’s been called the nation’s “overdose capital.”

Montgomery County, which surrounds Dayton, saw a five-year rate of 50 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people from 2013 to 2017, compared with the state’s death rate of 26.1. The county has sharply cut its high number of unintentional overdose deaths since the middle of 2017, but a lower death toll doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people suffer from addiction, and measuring deaths alone can mask the full context of a community’s drug problem.

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