Sesame Street To Address Opioid Crisis
We may be in the throes of a viral pandemic but there is another crisis still causing misery in the USA. America is in the grip of an opioid crisis. The misuse of substances like prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl, costs around $80 billion annually. Then there is the human cost; over 130 people a day die from overdosing on opioids.
The problem has become so widespread it seems to have touched every aspect of American life. So much so that it is going to be mentioned in one of the world’s most enduring children’s television programmes. To help educate American youngsters on the ongoing situation, it is set to feature in Sesame Street’s online content.
Dealing with controversial subjects
Sesame Street is one of the longest-running kid’s TV shows in history. It was first been conceived in 1966 and aired three years later. The much-loved TV institution has just celebrated its 50th anniversary and has not shied away from dealing with dangerous subjects.
For example, when the actor Will Lee who played Mr Hooper, died in real life, instead of writing his character out, the show took the brave, if controversial decision, to have Mr Hooper die on the show. This allowed the programme to raise the subject of death and speak to children about it. It covered what it means to die and how they were never going to see Mr Hooper again.
Following on in the same tradition, Sesame Workshop (SW), the US non-profit organisation in charge of production, has announced plans to explore how the opioid crisis has affected a popular character. The organisation used to be known as Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) – how many times did we hear that name at the end of an episode growing up?
Parent struggling with substance abuse
It will be revealed Karli, a cute green muppet with yellow hair, has a parent struggling with substance abuse. The show producers say they decided to address the topic after it was revealed over 5 million children under 11 years old in America has a parent with addiction.
In the past Sesame Street has explored issues like racism and adoption, as well as having a muppet character with autism. It had previously been established Karli (operated and voiced by puppeteer Haley Jenkins) was in foster care. The programme will now go into more detail, explaining her mother had to go away due to her dependency.
During the segment Karli appears with her human friend Salia Woodbury, who tells viewers her mum and dad are also in recovery. These are alongside segments where Louie, Elmo’s dad, explains to the children that addiction is an illness. Meanwhile Karli and Elmo talk about special meetings where people can get help.
The opioid crisis from a child’s viewpoint
The producers feel nobody’s looking at the opioid crisis from the point of view of small children living with an addicted parent. They feel addressing the issue from a youngster’s perspective can help kids understand what their mums and dads have gone through while allowing parents to talk to them about it. This could help them deal with their problem and may set them on the course to recovery.
Aim of the initiative
This is ultimately the aim of the initiative, which is part of Sesame Street in Communities resources. It is providing fun and educational activities for kids online, as well as helping mums and dads.
Some people may question if a kid’s show like Sesame Street is the right place to mention the opioid crisis. However, it could be the perfect opportunity to educate young children about the realities of addiction.
Opioids are so prevalent in America today, their grip reaches every corner of the country. So much so it even extends to Sesame Street. What does that tell you about the sorry state of addiction in the USA?