HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – According to Pennsylvania officials, nearly 260,000 children live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is rising, and in many cases is due to the drug overdose crisis.

On Aug 31, International Overdose Awareness Day, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith joined members of the Monroe County community to remember the lives lost to a drug overdose. Smith recalls hearing the names and ages of loved ones as they were read aloud, but something stood out to her.

“Over 90 percent of the names read that day were born in the same decade,” said Smith at a recent press event. “I remember turning to those who were with me that day and saying ‘I just can’t believe this, we’ve lost an entire generation.’ What does that mean for their children, for their parents,” she added.

It means a world turned upside down for parents like Denise Shanahan.

“My grandson, who was three at the time, found his mother on the floor of her bedroom,” said Shanahan, who lost her daughter to an overdose involving fentanyl in December 2015. “Not only did I lose a child, but I now also had two innocent children that I was responsible for,” she added.

As a single grandparent raising her two grandsons, Shanahan faced emotional and financial challenges that tens of thousands of grandparents across the state are also experiencing.

“Financially, it’s just very, very difficult,” said Shanahan.

Balancing things like work, school and child care is becoming a more common reality for grandparents across the country. To help, state officials are highlighting resources like PA KinConnector, which provides guidance, advice, and support for grandparents raising grandchildren and other relative and non-relative Kinship Caregivers

“Whether you need help with getting health insurance, legal referrals, food assistance and much more can connector is there for you,” said Jon Rubin Deputy Secretary for the Office of Children, Youth, and Families at the PA Department of Human Services.

Additionally, the Department of Aging’s Caregiver Support Program offers assistance to individuals who assume the primary responsibility for the provision of care to encourage a healthy, ongoing relationship with their care receiver. It is administered by Pennsylvania’s 52 Area Agencies on Aging and offers financial reimbursement of eligible out-of-pocket costs associated with caregiving-related services and supplies, among several other benefits.

“The department anticipates that grandparents raising grandchildren, and the demand for caregiving services will also increase,” said Robert Torres, Secretary of the PA Department of Aging.

Secretary Smith says grandparents are also placed into these oftentimes difficult situations as the result of their child being incarcerated or undergoing treatment.

“They may have to assume the role due to their child participating in a substance use treatment program, perhaps due to incarceration or in the worst of cases, loss of life to an overdose,” said Smith.

Even though the number of grandparents raising grandchildren as a result of the addiction crisis continues to rise, there is one thing they all have in common.

“If you are a grandparent or other caregiver raising children as a result of the opioid or addiction crisis, you are not alone,” said Secretary Smith.

For more information on PA KinConnector, you can find it here. KinConnector also runs a helpline that can be reached by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111). The helpline is available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with substance use, you can call the Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) which is available 24/7.