Joe Smith never imagined raising a granddaughter at age 66, but that’s where he and his wife found themselves 19 years ago when their daughter’s substance use disorder left them unable to care for their children. .
This provided all the costs of having a baby in the house, including clothes, a crib, and a third mouth for feeding. In some cases, Ms. Smith’s daughter lived with her intermittently, resulting in her fourth expense. The granddaughter’s father did not provide any child support. When the Smiths finally gained legal custody of her granddaughter, Olivia, Ms. Smith missed countless days from her job as a construction electrician to attend court hearings and attorney meetings.
“Sick leave is not paid… They expect you to come to work every day. They don’t care about what’s going on in your personal life. I mean, at least when I was working… The company,” Smith said. He runs weekly peer support groups for parents of people struggling with addiction in Columbus, Ohio.
Mr. Smith’s story is not unique. Families across the country are struggling with new financial challenges as children, parents, and other relatives battle the disease of addiction, taking time off work, depleting their savings, or becoming parents again in their 60s and 70s. facing a burden. The costs can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, treatment stays, property damage, and countless other unexpected expenses.
The opioid crisis alone cost the U.S. economy $631 billion from 2015 to 2018, according to a study by the Society of Actuaries. The amount is almost certain to increase, as the opioid crisis has seen little relief over the past five years. Overdose deaths increased slightly in 2022 after increasing significantly during the first years of the pandemic.
The study also found that only a third of these billions will go to governments, with the rest coming from individuals and the private sector.
In Ohio, the epicenter of the opioid crisis, the state Department of Commerce is taking a unique approach to helping families financially impacted by addiction by educating people who handle money about addiction. is taking.
This summer, the department began its first training program. “Recovery Within Reach” Program We teach financial advisors how to spot the signs of addiction in their clients’ families and direct them to state and private resources that can help alleviate heavy financial burdens.
In the department’s survey, 45% of financial advisors in Ohio said they knew of a client or family member of a client struggling with addiction.
But that number is likely much higher, as 1 in 13 Ohioans has a substance use disorder, according to Andrea Zeidt, director of the Ohio Bureau of Securities. Stigma around addiction, especially when combined with conversations about money, can prevent people from opening up about their struggles, even to people they trust.
“The more we talk about this issue and all industries start talking about it, the more successful we will be in the fight against stigma and the more people will feel comfortable reaching out and getting the treatment they need. ” said Zeit.
In this program, financial advisors are taught to look for certain warning signs. These include unexpected large withdrawals from a customer’s account, late or missed payments on important bills, repeated accidents or injuries, rising insurance premiums, and sudden custody of minor family members. It will be.
The Recovery Within Reach website also has an information hub. Those seeking help can enter their insurance status and treatment needs and be connected to programs that offer affordable or financial assistance.
Carl Hollister, president of Cincinnati-based investment advisory firm LM Cohn since 1994, received the training earlier this summer. In September, he brought in employees from branches across the country to take the course.
Financial advisors are being forced to devise ways to combat a number of financial crises, including cybersecurity breaches and an increase in investment scams targeting seniors. Hollister said he views addiction as a similar crisis and believes Ohio is a pioneering example that other states should follow.
Ohio’s program also encourages financial professionals to break through bias and start conversations themselves, ensuring confidentiality and approaching clients with empathy.
Lori Eisele, financial advisor and owner of Arcadia Financial Partners, knows both sides of this fight. But she long hid the fact that her son had been in and out of treatment for a substance use disorder at least six times since he was a freshman in high school.
“It was like being a doctor trying to treat yourself,” Eisele said, noting that even though she is a financial planner, she didn’t make the best financial decisions throughout her son’s ordeal. did. “As a mother, you look at this first. This is what my child needs.”
His initial treatment cost him $10,000 out of pocket and was partially covered by private insurance. The second time was at a treatment facility in another state. Travel costs add up, including plane tickets, hotel accommodations, and food. Then an intensive outpatient treatment program cost another $5,000. When he was 18, she transferred him to Medicaid at the recommendation of another treatment facility, which alleviated some of his financial burden.
But the costs weren’t just for treatment. Her son crashed his car while driving drunk. He had to receive special medical care for symptoms and injuries related to his illness. Eisele sometimes had to take time off from work.
Looking back, what Eisel needed most was someone who cared. But she also needed someone to look objectively at resources and programs that could help her son without jeopardizing her or her other children’s financial stability.
“This is a journey that takes years to overcome,” Eisel said, but often the journey becomes a cycle of helping a loved one who is addicted rather than helping them.
Like Joe Smith, Eisel helps run a group in Ohio for families struggling with addiction, trying to give others the help he could have used. “There are people who will never retire because they spent all their retirement money on treatment,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Smith has decades of experience navigating the courts, Medicare and other state resources for Olivia, her mother and three other daughters who also suffer from substance use disorders. .
But that habit, like many of his situations, comes at a cost: time, money, and stress. If the resources he had to find on his own were common knowledge to more people, such as financial advisors, they would be “the biggest thing” for people financially burdened by addiction. ‘, Smith believes.
Nineteen years after he first adopted Olivia, Smith is finally considering retiring next year, but it probably won’t be what he imagined. His beloved wife passed away last December. He is looking for independent housing for his granddaughter, who still lives with him. He managed to stash away some money, but had to dip into his savings to fix the roof of his house.
“For 19 years, our lives were on hold,” Smith said. “Now her wife has passed away. I don’t have much time left. I just want to enjoy life.”
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.