SHARONVILLE, Ohio -- Three more children Monday joined the ranks of Hamilton County's "opiate orphans" when their parents, Melissa Barger and Travis Bell, died of an overdose, according to Hamilton County coroner Lakshmi Sammarco.
"We don't often talk about the children that are left behind by this, and I think it's time that we as a community started paying attention to that," Sammarco said in a news conference.
Barger, 39, had been clean for at least a year, according to a family friend. Andrea Dufresne, who also knew the couple, said that she had spoken to Barger on Friday and noticed that she seemed to be struggling.
"I said, ‘You know, just go to a meeting and keep yourself together,'" Dufresne said.
Both Barger and Bell would be dead less than 48 hours after that conversation. Their children called 911 when they discovered their bodies.
"I don't want people to think that (Melissa) was some addict," Lydia Upchurch, who identified herself as Barger's best friend, said. "She worked every single day, never missed a day of work, ever; took her baby to daycare, picked her baby up from daycare every day."
Barger's sister, Melodie Dameron, said the most difficult part of losing the pair was realizing that their children could never see them again.
"They're gone," she said. "They can't come back. … There are so many of us that will truly miss them."
The three children will stay with their extended family, but not all of their peers are so lucky. Sammarco said in a news conference that Hamilton County Job and Family Services cares for more than 100 children who have lost their parents to overdoses.