Anguished Families Shoulder The Biggest Burdens Of Opioid Addiction Nationally, the economic toll of the opioid crisis is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. For families of addicts, the losses can include their life savings, peace of mind and a sense of hope.

Anguished Families Shoulder The Biggest Burdens Of Opioid Addiction

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For a family dealing with opioid addiction, there are countless costs. Emergency response, health care, lost jobs, rehab, criminal defense. These are costs that can easily run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Yeah. And you multiply those costs by 42,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of overdoses across the country every year, and you begin to get a sense of the damage that addiction can do to families.

GREENE: NPR's Yuki Noguchi has been following several families in Muncie, Ind., who are grappling with the toll of opioid addiction measured in money, anxiety and heartache.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Last summer I had come to Muncie to report on the opioid epidemic's effect on the workforce. There, I met Katiena and Roger Johnson, who talked about missing work, delaying retirement and taking care of their grandchildren because of their daughter, Destini's, addiction. As we talked on their porch, Destini surprised us, returning to her parents' home unexpectedly after being jailed on drug charges.


KATIENA JOHNSON: This is my daughter.

ROGER JOHNSON: This is Destini.

K. JOHNSON: This is - did you get out of jail?


R. JOHNSON: She's right here.

K. JOHNSON: This is so great that you're here to see this.


NOGUCHI: Now nearly eight months later, Destini lies silent in a coma. Small and pale, she looks buried in a tangle of hospital linens, machines and tubes. Her mother, Katiena Johnson, keeps vigil nearby. She's strung up lights, photo collages and handwritten prayers.

K. JOHNSON: We're just hoping she wakes up. They're not giving us much hope, though. That's just the way it is. But she suffered 10 to 12 strokes, mainly on the right side of her brain.

NOGUCHI: Doctors told her mother the strokes resulted from an overdose two weeks earlier. A person who was with Destini called Katiena to say her daughter was unresponsive. He gave her an address then left before emergency workers arrived.

K. JOHNSON: Yeah. He couldn't even stay with her, but I was glad he called. Some people don't even do that when it comes to an addict.

NOGUCHI: The Johnson's harrowing experience with opioid addiction began about seven years ago when Destini was 20. Before that, Destini liked being class clown and playing board games. Her mother says she would have made a great cruise director. Instead, Destini's addiction spun up a string of dramas including prostitution, homelessness, jail time, a previous overdose and now severe brain damage, if she survives. Katiena Johnson and her husband now have custody of Destini's 2-year-old son, Schad (ph), and pay for his diapers and food. Katiena says she read a recent newspaper article about the cost of opioid addiction.

K. JOHNSON: I didn't hear it one time mention the toll it was taking on the families, the addicts' kids. Her troubles just kept piling on top of one and the other and the other and the other. They just buried herself deeper and deeper in the, you know, cost after cost after cost of court costs and everything else.

NOGUCHI: If Destini lives, she will need intensive, expensive long-term nursing. Her mother hopes state insurance will foot the bill for the weeks-long ICU stay. Still, the bills could outlast her.

K. JOHNSON: I got a call from Atlas from her today, and that's a collection agency. And you just - I hate getting stuff like that while she's in this condition, you know? On the second day she was in here, I got a court paper rolled up on my door, you know, for damage at some kind of apartment complex.

NOGUCHI: One local economist compares the opioid epidemic to a war. Those that survive can remain scarred for life. The economic loss can be measured in paychecks not earned, absent parents not coaching soccer, careers that end because of criminal drug charges. The heavy finality of a death or brain damage is heartbreaking. But the chaos of life with an active addict can be every bit as devastating. Karen Rench (ph) grapples with that daily, sometimes coming to work after another sleepless night.

KAREN RENCH: Shipping, you have a call on park one.

NOGUCHI: Rench works at the reception desk at Mursix, a metal parts manufacturer in Muncie. Her home has become the stop of last resort for her 31-year-old grandson. He's been an addict for more than a decade.

RENCH: The destruction they leave in their path is horrendous.

NOGUCHI: There are emotional body blows, she says, which cannot be measured, and the financial devastation, which can.

RENCH: You put out money by handing them money. You put out the money by it being stolen. You put out the money by the cost of wrecking a car, rehab, prescriptions and supporting him. I buy food. I replaced a door that he busted. It's endless. The dollars, those are real. Those are real.

NOGUCHI: Rench, who is 71, came out of retirement. Her grandson hasn't held a job for years so she helps support his 5-year-old daughter.

RENCH: How much have we spent on him? It's been in the hundreds of thousands, and we're working-class people.

NOGUCHI: Is the reason you're working because of that?

RENCH: Probably, yeah. I'm paying on two loans now that I took out for him. You know, I feel bad for myself. This isn't what I wanted to do at 71 years old. This is not the life I envisioned for him. When I rocked his baby when she was first born and I just cried because I can remember rocking him, and I thought, I don't even know what's going to happen to this baby because I had no idea what would happen to him.

NOGUCHI: She worries he will die. But there is also terror in watching the once athletic, handsome grandson turn bedraggled and mow down everything in his path.

RENCH: We kind of don't have a feeling that it's going to be a good end, wondering if it's going to be a suicide, an overdose, a prison sentence.

NOGUCHI: If it comes to that, Rench says, it won't matter what her family has already sacrificed. She'll still wonder what more she might have done. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Muncie, Ind.


GREENE: Now, since Yuki visited Muncie, there have been some developments. Destini Johnson's mother reports that her daughter is regaining consciousness and is now out of the ICU.

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