Number of children losing a parent to drug overdoses surges, study finds

The rate of children losing a parent to overdose in the U.S. has doubled in a decade.
Posted at 11:55 AM, May 09, 2024

A report funded by the National Institutes of Health revealed that over 321,000 U.S. children lost a parent due to a drug overdose from 2011 through 2021.

The data published this week in JAMA Psychiatry shows that the rate of children who had a parent die from an overdose more than doubled during the decade. The study says that per 100,000 children, the rate of those who lost a parent increased from 27 to 63.

“It is devastating to see that almost half of the people who died of a drug overdose had a child. No family should lose their loved one to an overdose, and each of these deaths represents a tragic loss that could have been prevented,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. “These findings emphasize the need to better support parents in accessing prevention, treatment, and recovery services. In addition, any child who loses a parent to overdose must receive the care and support they need to navigate this painful and traumatic experience.”

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During the 2011-21 period, 649,599 people aged 18 to 64 died from a drug overdose. The NIDA study was the first to look at specifically how many children had a parent die from overdoses.

The data indicated that kids were more likely to lose a father due to overdose than a mother. There were 192,459 children whose fathers died from an overdose compared to 129,107 children who lost a mother.

The study shows that young Black parents had the largest increase in drug overdose deaths during the 10-year period.

“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,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for mental health and substance use. “These data illustrate that not only are communities of color experiencing overdose death disparities, but also underscore the need for responses to the overdose crisis moving forward to comprehensively address the needs of individuals, families and communities.”

Recent data shows that drug overdose fatalities are growing throughout the U.S., and was a significant reason life expectancy declined nationally in 2021.

Researchers said U.S. life expectancy sank in 2021 to 76.1 years, falling from 78.8 years in 2019 and 77 years in 2020.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021, which was up from about 92,000 in 2020. The number of drug overdose deaths doubled from 2016 to 2021.

CDC data indicated there was a rebound in life expectancy to 77.5 years in 2022.