Helping Children Understand the Opioid Epidemic with New Sesame Street Character


“Sesame Street” has joined the fight against opioid addiction by creating a storyine to help educate children about the opioid epidemic and how it affects families.

This article was updated October 14, 2019.

Prescription drug abuse has become so widespread that about 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.1 The Department of Health and Human Services created the following comprehensive 5-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis: better prevention, treatment, and recovery services; better data; better pain management; better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs; and better research on pain and addiction.2

“Sesame Street” has joined the fight against opioid addiction by creating a new storyline with Karli, a yellow-haired Muppet. Karli's story was created to help children impacted by parental addiction to opioids or other substances.3

"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 1 of the most isolating and stressful situations young children and their families face," said Sherrie Westin, President of Social Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street, in a prepared statement.3

Karli was first introduced in May 2019, and her story initially addressed foster care. Karli's story is expanding discuss that she was in foster care because her mother suffered from addiction and had to go away for treatment. In online resources, 10-year-old Salia Woodbury will join Karli to discuss how her parents suffered from opioid addiction and are now in recovery.3 These candid discussions are important for helping young children cope with parental addiction and build resilence.

The efforts of the nonprofit Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street, are part of Sesame Street in Communities program, which provides free electronic resources to support children’s healthy development.4 Tools are available in both English and Spanish and are designed for children from birth to age six years. They incorporate tough issues such as addiction, and how to build healthy habits. The parental addiction web page includes articles, videos, and interactive games that explain addiction to children with the help of Karli. One resource also includes treatment facilities and organizations for support.

"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," said Westin.3

The website's 7 C’s is a coloring activity that helps to empower children to make healthy life choices through the following motivational tips: You didn’t Cause the problem; You can’t Control it; You can’t Cure it; You can help take Care of yourself; You can Communicate your feelings; You can make healthy Choices; You can Celebrate yourself.4

Pharmacists and other health care professionals can utilize these resources when educating families affected by addiction. Additionally, these are great topics for pharmacists to educate school age children about to raise awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.


  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Opioid overdose. CDC website. Accessed October 10, 2019.
  • Department of Health & Human Services. 5-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis. HHS website. Accessed October 10, 2019.
  • Sesame Workshop Launches Initiative to Support Children Affected by Parental Addiction [news release]. New York, NY; October 9, 2019: Sesame Workshop website. Accessed October 14, 2019.
  • Sesame Street. Parental addiction. Sesame Street in Communities website. Accessed October 10, 2019.

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