By Stephanie Smith and Nadia Kounang
Editor’s note: For more on this story, watch “Sanjay Gupta, MD” at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday and 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday.
Rockcastle County, Kentucky (CNN) — This area of eastern Kentucky is known for lush, green hillsides and white picket fences. It is a place where bluegrass music may be heard trailing off when a car passes by, where “downtown” is a two-block stretch of quaint shops.
Life here may seem simple, but a darkness has been quietly nestling itself into the community.
“Rockcastle County is averaging one drug-related death per week,” said Nancy Hale, an anti-drug activist and educator. “When your county is a little over 16,000 people and you’re losing a person a week … you’re losing a whole generation.”
The generation being lost, Hale said, is parents. An inordinate number of children in Rockcastle County — and in neighboring areas in eastern Kentucky — are living without them.
According to 2010 census data, more than 86,000 children in Kentucky are being raised by someone who is not their biological parent — mostly grandparents — and many here blame those fractured families on prescription drugs.
“I know a little girl who found her father dead of a drug overdose, found her uncle dead of a drug overdose, and now she’s living with her aunt,” said Karen Kelly, executive director of Operation UNITE, a community coalition devoted to preventing overdose deaths in Kentucky.
“The kids really are the ones paying the biggest price.”
‘You’re always worried’
“It’s a terrible thing,” said Sean Watkins, 17, a junior at Rockcastle County High. “Especially in our community, it’s really bad.”
When he was 10, Watkins and his family were expecting his mother for dinner, but she never showed up. He and a family friend went looking for her at her home.
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