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How Sesame Street Is Helping to Shape the Conversation Surrounding Addiction

 Sesame Street Is Helping to Shape the Conversation Surrounding Addiction

The opioid crisis continues to touch countless Americans every year. In 2017, Ohio health providers wrote 63.5 opioid prescriptions per every 100 persons, higher than the national average and cementing the state's struggle with drug abuse and addiction. But, of course, addiction doesn't discriminate. No matter who you are or where you're from, these issues can have a huge effect.

That's exactly why "Sesame Street" has chosen to address addiction in some of the show's newest episodes. While it might seem strange that a children's show tackle the grown-up issue of drug abuse, the reality is that the series has never shied away from discussing major issues that have a profound impact on children. In the past, "Sesame Street" has touched on grief and loss, autism, HIV/AIDS, bullying, the prison system, military families, Israeli-Palestinian relations, homelessness, and more -- so it seems only natural that Sesame Workshop would develop a way to reach children who are currently dealing with the fallout of addiction.

According to the Associated Press roughly 5.7 million American children under the age of 11 live with a parent who struggles with substance abuse. As a result, "Sesame Street" wants to assure young viewers that they are not alone.

In a series of online segments, viewers will learn more about Karli -- a new Muppet living in foster care who was first introduced this past spring. Karli will explain to her friends, Elmo and Abby Cadabby, about what she's experienced as her mom has battled addiction and taken steps to live a healthier life. Karli also talks about attending special kids-only meetings for those whose loved ones have the disease of addiction, which help her connect with other children who have experienced what she has. These episodes also feature 10-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose own parents are in recovery.

The segments serve as a way to remove the stigma associated with addiction and help vulnerable children gain a better understanding of their own situation -- or how to support their friends and loved ones who might be going through this experience.

Jerry Moe, who works a counselor for the children's program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and who serves as an advisor for the show as part of its Sesame Street in Communities project, explained to FastCompany: "The sad reality is that children are the first to get hurt and the last to get help... Addiction is this disease of silence, secrecy, and shame... [yet] children know when something is wrong." And when children aren't provided with an explanation of what's happening, they're inclined to make up their own reasons, Moe says. " Often, it’s that they did something wrong or that their loved one doesn’t love them anymore. That’s not what we want little kids to carry."

Adds Sherrie Westin, President of Social Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop: "Addiction is often seen as a 'grown-up' issue, but it impacts children in ways that aren't always visible. Having a parent battling addiction can be one of the most isolating and stressful situations young children and their families face. 'Sesame Street' has always been a source of comfort to children during the toughest of times, and our new resources are designed to break down the stigma of parental addiction and help families build hope for the future."