The drug overdose crisis in the United States has not only claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans but has also had a profound impact on their children. A novel study published in the JAMA Psychiatry by a group of researchers from the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sheds light on the staggering number of children who have lost a parent to drug overdose between 2011 and 2021.

According to the study 649,599 individuals between the ages of 18 to 64, died due to a drug overdose during this period, with an estimated 321,566 children losing a parent due to this epidemic, revealing its devastating impact on their future development. This last number represents an over twofold increase in the rate of children experiencing the loss of a parent due to an overdose between 2011 and 2021 (Figure 1). Having a parent who uses drugs is an adverse childhood experience on its own, placing a child at a higher risk of drug use, mental health issues, and many other negative outcomes that will affect the child’s developmental success.

Unfortunately, deaths by drug overdose have impacted certain races and ethnic groups more severely than others. Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Native children have experienced the highest rate of loss, followed by non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children. Non-Hispanic Black children, however, saw the highest rate of yearly loss increase from 2.9 per 100,000 in 2011 to 22.7 per 100,000 in 2021, with an average annual percent change of 23.8. These inequities are amplified by systemic failures and the social determinants of health.

These findings highlight the need for better support for parents struggling with substance use disorders and their children to reduce the number of children affected by the loss of a parent due to overdose. This includes accessibility to preventive, treatment, and recovery services that are culturally equipped to support their diverse backgrounds and ensure these services are provided without stigma or punitive measures. It is important to provide care and support to children who have lost a parent, as they navigate the traumatic effects of loss.

In conclusion, the drug overdose crisis is not just a public health emergency; it is also a family crisis. As we work to combat this crisis, we must prioritize the needs of the children who have been silently impacted, ensuring that they receive the care and support they need to thrive.


Jones CM, Zhang K, Han B, et al. Estimated Number of Children Who Lost a Parent to Drug Overdose in the US From 2011 to 2021. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 08, 2024. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2024.0810

NIDA. 2024, May 8. More than 321,000 U.S. children lost a parent to drug overdose from 2011 to 2021. Retrieved from on 2024, May 9