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Study Shows Over 320,000 Children in the U.S. Lost a Parent to Drug Overdose

Updated: 4 days ago

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry estimates that between 2011 and 2021, 321,566 children in the US lost a parent to a drug overdose.

Our study highlights an under-explored dimension of the ongoing overdose crisis and underscores the reverberating effects substance use and overdose can have on individuals, families and communities,” explained Dr. Christopher Jones, Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA).

While the number of affected children increased across all racial and ethnic groups, researchers found a disproportionate impact among communities of color. Children with American Indian/Alaska Native parents experienced the highest rate of parental loss, while children with younger Black parents experienced the highest increase in rates of loss each year. Overall, children lost more fathers than mothers (192,459 compared to 129,107) during this period.

“Given the short and long-term impacts losing a parent has on a kid’s life, program and policy planning should ensure that responses to the overdose crisis account for the full burden of drug overdose on families and children; including addressing the economic, social, educational, and healthcare needs of children who have lost parents to overdose,” shared Dr. Jones.

“Children who lose a parent to overdose not only feel personal grief but also may experience ripple effects, such as further family instability," shared Dr. Allison Arwady, Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in a CDC press release. “We need to ensure that families have the resources and support to prevent an overdose from happening in the first place and manage such a traumatic event.” 

This is the first national study to estimate the number of children who lost a parent to drug overdose, led by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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