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‘Sesame Street’ Is Tackling the Opioid Epidemic, But How Many Kids Will Actually Watch?

A new Muppet whose parents are struggling with addiction? Great. Putting her segments online only? Not great.

YouTube/Sesame Workshop

Racism, autism, homelessness, and death are just some of the weighty issues Sesame Street has tackled in its 50 years on the air. And now, the Guardian reports that the show is tackling another unfortunately topical issue: substance abuse.

Karli is a bright green Muppet whose mother is struggling with addiction. Over the summer, the show filmed segments with Karli and Salia Woodbury, a real-life ten-year-old whose parents are in recovery. Their message: Addiction is a disease, not a character flaw or a crime deserving punishment.

“Yeah, a sickness that makes people feel like they have to take drugs or drink alcohol to feel OK. My mom was having a hard time with addiction and I felt like my family was the only one going through it. But now I’ve met so many other kids like us. It makes me feel like we’re not alone,” Karli said in one of the segments.

Jerry Moe, the national director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Program, consulted on the segments. He said that the kids who get caught up in the opioid crisis are “the first to get hurt and, unfortunately, the last to get help.”

“For them to see Karli and learn that it’s not their fault and this stuff is hard to talk about and it’s OK to have these feelings, that’s important. And that there’s hope.”

But how many kids will actually see Karli? The segments, along with others in which Elmo’s dad Louie explains to Elmo that addiction is a sickness and Karli telling Elmo and Chris about recovery support groups, are available only online, which means it will be hard for kids to see them unless they specifically seek them out.

The Sesame Workshop deserves credit for taking on such tricky subjects, but we wish they would try to ensure more of the 5.7 million kids under 11 who live in a home with a parent who has substance abuse issues actually see these great videos.