Sesame Street Comes to the Rescue of the Opioid Crisis

Sesame Street Characters - Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Elmo, Grover, and Abby Cadabby

2019 marks the 50th year of the PBS children’s educational show Sesame Street, and a new sesame street character named Karlie is being introduced. True to their form, the creators of the program began by asking a simple question, can television be used to educate kids?

Utilizing research in the fields of developmental psychology and early childhood education, it has not only taught children the alphabet and how to count (thank you Count von Count) but tackled challenging subjects throughout its history. Now, it is addressing one of the most significant mental health issues of our time—addiction and the opioid crisis.

Karli is a bright green furry character whose storyline includes living in the foster care system because her mother is undergoing treatment for addiction. She regularly appears in scenes with the beloved Elmo talking about the challenges she has faced (who of you wouldn’t love to speak with Elmo about your problems?).

In some scenes, Karlie talks with 10-year-old actress Salia Woodbury whose real-life parents have recovered from their own opioid addictions. In an interview with NBC News, Salia says that she wants other kids who are impacted by opioid addiction to know that they are not alone and that they are strong enough to survive. [3]

A New Sesame Street Character Named KarlieDespite large numbers of children impacted by addiction, not everyone has supported Sesame Street introducing this storyline. Reading through comments on social media, some adults think the topic is not appropriate to address with children.

This may be why the show’s creators have not included discussions of addiction in regular programming but limited the content to the supplemental material offered through the online platform Sesame Street Communities.

Karlie helps “bring to light an issue that a lot of people think of as a grown-up issue and don’t understand the impact on young children,” said Sesame Street’s Sherrie Westin, President of Sesame Workshop Social Impact and Philanthropy. [4] Supporters of the storyline and Karli’s character recognize the impact of addiction as well as the reach that Sesame Street has into American homes.

Over the years, Sesame Street has addressed challenging issues that children face, such as autism (in 2017 Julia, a muppet with autism, became a regular on the show), divorce, having a parent in jail, and the death of a loved one, most notably the loss of beloved Mr. Hooper. Karlie continues that work as the program addresses addiction and its impact on the family with its trademark empathy and kindness.


[1] Sesame Street. (n.d.). Our History. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

[2] Locker, M. (2019, October 10). Sesame Street Takes on Opioid Crisis So Kids Can Understand. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from

[3] News, N. B. C. (2019, October 9). Sesame Street Introduces New Character To Help Kids Understand Opioid Crisis | NBC Nightly News. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

[4] TodayShow. (2019, October 10). Sesame Street addresses addiction crisis with newest Muppet, Karli. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

About the Author:

Travis StewartTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Specifically, he has worked with eating disorders since 2003 and has learned from many of the field’s leading experts. He has worked with hundreds of individuals facing life-threatening eating disorders in all levels of treatment. Travis’ website is

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 16, 2019
Published December 16, 2019, on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.