A New 'Sesame Street' Storyline Aims to Help Children Caught in the Opioid Crisis

Karli tells Elmo about her mom's special meeting. ('Sesame Street')

Earlier this year, Sesame Street introduced Karli, a green muppet living with "for now" parents because her mom was "having a hard time."

Five months later, Karli is out of foster care, and in an episode this week, we learned that her mother is now in Narcotics Anonymous. Karli has to explain to Elmo why her parent needs to go to meetings. "Mom needs help learning to take better care of herself," she tells Elmo. "So she talks to people with the same problem."

In another segment, Elmo's dad tells him: "Karli's mommy has a disease called addiction. Addiction makes people feel like they need a grown up drink called alcohol or another kind of drug to feel okay. That can make a person act strange in ways they can't control."

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With an estimated 1.7 million people struggling with opioid addiction in the United States and 130 Americans, on average, dying from overdoses every day, Karli's storyline is incredibly timely and could have an enormous impact on the 5.7 million children living with parents with substance abuse problems.

Karli's backstory continues Sesame Street's long tradition of tackling tough subjects in ways kids can understand. In 2015, the show addressed family grief when Elmo's Uncle Jack died. Last year, the show introduced a new character named Lily, whose family was homeless. One scene focused on providing a reassuring activity for Lily any time she was "worried or scared about home."

In 2017, Sesame Street included gay dads in a segment about Father's Day. That same year, viewers were introduced to Julia, a child with autism who moves and communicates differently from Elmo and Abby, and has trouble coping with loud noises. Julia's arrival made it clear that autistic kids are just as worthy of friendship as any other child, and gave viewers an understanding of how to accept differences. "She's not like any friend I've ever had before," said Big Bird. "Yeah," Elmo replied. "But none of us are exactly the same."

Sesame Workshop's president of global impact and philanthropy, Sherrie Westin says: "For everything we've done—from military families to homelessness—it's all about how to make children free to talk and to give parents the tools to do just that. They tend to avoid it and it's what they need more than anything."

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