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More Than 321,000 U.S. Kids Lost a Parent to Drug ODs in a Decade
  • Posted May 8, 2024

More Than 321,000 U.S. Kids Lost a Parent to Drug ODs in a Decade

More than 320,000 U.S. children lost a parent to drug overdose during the past decade, according to a new study reported May 8 in JAMA Psychiatry.

What's more, the death rate accelerated during the period, more than doubling between 2011 and 2021, researchers found.

About 27 children per 100,000 had a parent die from an overdose in 2011. Ten years later, 63 children per 100,000 lost a parent to lethal drug use, results show.

“This first-of-its-kind study allows us to better understand the tragic magnitude of the overdose crisis and the reverberations it has among children and families,” Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, administrator of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said in a news release.

Nationwide death records show that nearly 650,000 people 18 to 64 died of a drug overdose between 2011 and 2021.

Of those, an estimated 321,566 left behind a child, based on data from drug use surveys.

“It is devastating to see that almost half of the people who died of a drug overdose had a child,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news release. "No family should lose their loved one to an overdose, and each of these deaths represents a tragic loss that could have been prevented."

These findings come on the heels of another study reporting a three-fold rise in gun violence and drug OD deaths among parents during the past two decades, with nearly 100,000 kids losing a parent for those reasons in 2020. The study was published May 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new study found that, overall, children lost more fathers than mothers – nearly 192,500 left fatherless compared to just over 129,000 left motherless.

The highest numbers of OD deaths were among parents 26 to 40, who left behind more than 175,000 children, and among white parents, who left behind 234,000 children.

Hispanic parent ODs left behind more than 40,000 children, and Black parent drug deaths left behind more than 35,700 kids.

Children with American Indian/Alaska Native parents consistently experienced the highest rate of parental loss to overdose, results show, with a rate of 187 children per 100,000 in 2021.

Compared to that, the rate among white children was nearly 77 per 100,000 and Black children 73 per 100,000.

These results underscore the need for drug treatment strategies to treat addicts as parents or family members, and provide resources to support families and break generational cycles of substance abuse.

“Children who lose a parent to overdose not only feel personal grief but also may experience ripple effects, such as further family instability," Dr. Allison Arwady, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a news 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.” 

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about drug overdose.

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, news release, May 8, 2024

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