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Sesame Street Airs Special About Substance Abuse and Addiction

Sesame Street characters performing in front of crowds.  

Sesame Street has been a legendary show for children for 50 years, and now the show is taking on the opioid crisis and teaching kids about substance abuse. Sesame Workshop is introducing Karli on Sesame Street. This green puppet friend of Elmo has a mother who is going through addiction.

The creators of Sesame Street said they felt it was important to explore drug addiction in youth and among families and loved ones since there are an estimated 5.7 million children under the age of 11 living in a home with a parent who has a substance use disorder.

According to Kama Einhorn, who is a senior content manager of Sesame Workshop, there’s nothing else that addresses substance abuse for very young kids. She told USA Today that the show has the opportunity to provide a model for adults to explain their substance use to their children and provide coping strategies. Einhorn went on to say that when parents are at the most vulnerable point in their struggle, they can watch the show with their children and hopefully take even just one thing away from it.

The segments include Karli having a conversation with 10-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose parents are in recovery. Sesame Street shows that addiction is a disease and it explores the idea that children aren’t alone if someone in their home is dealing with it. The language used in the segments is carefully chosen to resonate with young children. The Karli character on the show was introduced already as being in foster care, and now the audience will learn why her mother went away for a period.

This certainly isn’t the first time Sesame Street has tackled difficult situations in a way that appeals to young children. The show has explored HIV, jailed parents, homelessness and women’s rights, among other topics.

America’s Opioid Epidemic

America’s opioid epidemic has a serious impact on children, and this often includes very young children. For example, more than 40% of children in relative foster homes are there because they were growing up with drug-addicted parents and because of parental substance abuse. When children grow up in a home with addiction it can impact them in a range of ways, and it can be both stressful and isolating, which is why proponents of the Sesame Street addition of Karli feel it’s so important.

Early Drug Prevention is Necessary

Along with helping children whose parents are addicted to opioids understand it’s not their fault and they aren’t alone, shows and programs like Sesame Street may help with preventing drug abuse in youth. Young people who witness the overdose of family members are themselves at an increased risk of misusing opioids. They’re also more likely to obtain opioids from relatives and friends.

More than 4,000 people under the age of 24 died from opioid overdoses in 2017. Perhaps by normalizing the conversation and starting to do so at a younger age than drug conversations are started, it can prevent substance misuse by children who grow up in homes where it’s present.

If you would like more information about addiction treatment for young people, including adolescents and teens, contact Next Generation Village today and explore the comprehensive treatment options available.


BBC News. “Sesame Street to cover addiction with new muppet Karli.” October 11, 2019. Accessed November 10, 2019.

Kennedy, Mark. “Sesame Street tackles parental addiction crisis in a way kids can understand.” USA Today, October 10, 2019. Accessed November 10, 2019.

Dodge, Blake. “Fox News Medical Contributor Has Concerns Sesame Street Could be Normalizing Substance Abuse with Our Youth.” Newsweek, October 11, 2019. Accessed November 10, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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