It all started with pain killers after a dentist appointment. Now, Drake, a 32-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, has struggled with opioid abuse for more than a decade.
“I was just in disbelief,” Drake’s mother Carlene said, adding she never thought her son would be a heroin addict.
Drake’s addiction makes life harder for his 8-year-old daughter, Ava. Her mother is out of the picture, too, with a long arrest record herself – so eventually Carlene took legal custody of her granddaughter.
“I knew she needed a stable environment, that going into a foster care system would be difficult to be able to see her parents, you know, as I’ve allowed her to see them,” she said.
As many children do when trying to cope with a parent’s addiction, Ava tried to appeal directly to her dad for answers.
“So, first, I asked ‘Why do you take the drugs?'” she said. “And, he says, ‘Well, I take them when I’m mad about something.’ And, I’m like ‘What are you mad about?’ And, he just doesn’t tell me.”
Ava hopes there will soon be a turning point and her dad can come home from jail where he has been since April on charges of attempted theft.
“This is really, really getting to be a huge problem in my life because, you know, it’s really weird to live with your grandma and not to live with your mom and dad, the people who made you,” she said.
Many family members like Carlene try to hold their families together and seek out treatment programs or raise the children as their own, but not everyone has that option.
Data from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio shows the opioid epidemic has led to an 11 percent increase in the number of kids and teens forced into Ohio foster care since 2010 and those kids are lingering in the system nearly 20 percent longer.
Ava was looking forward to her dad being released from jail and was ready to welcome him home with a handwritten card and gifts. But, while CNN was with her on the day of the would-be reunion, Ava and her grandmother were notified he would be held longer due to a theft charge from the state of Pennsylvania.
“Daddy’s not going to be getting out today, okay?” Carlene told her emotional granddaughter in the jail parking lot. “See what happens when you’re on drugs and you don’t make good choices?”
Ava cried into her grandmother’s arms.
“I know we were all excited,” Carlene said, trying to comfort Ava again. “I’m so sorry.”
On September 8, Drake was released and Ava got her wish for her father to come home.