May 8, 2024 - Health

More than 320,000 U.S. children lost a parent to drug overdose from 2011-2021

A Rapid Response Fentanyl (FYL) Forensic Test Kit

A Rapid Response Fentanyl (FYL) Forensic Test Kit in Tucson, Arizona on March 6. Photo: Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Approximately 321,566 children in the U.S. lost a parent to drug overdose in the decade between 2011 and 2021, according to a new study.

Why it matters: The findings underscore the human toll of the increase in drug overdoses in the U.S., especially among opioid users.

The big picture: The study, published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, found that the rate of children who had lost a parent to drug overdose had more than doubled during the decade.

  • In 2011, 27 children per 100,000 had lost a parent aged 18 to 64 to drug overdose. By 2021, that figure had jumped to 63.1 per 100,000.
  • The study noted that its findings emphasized the need for policy responses to the overdose crisis to address the impact on families, including the "economic, social, educational, and health care needs of children who have lost parents to overdose."

Zoom in: The study also found "significant disparities" across racial and ethnic groups.

  • Children of non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native individuals experienced the highest rates of loss (187.1 per 100,000). This was more than double the rates seen among non-Hispanic white children (76.5 per 100,000) and non-Hispanic Black children (73.2 per 100,000).
  • While rates increased annually across all groups, Black children saw the highest annual percent increase in loss.

What they're saying: "It is devastating to see that almost half of the people who died of a drug overdose had a child," Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a press 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," Volkow added.

Zoom out: Nearly 107,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2021, and over 75% of those deaths involved opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • The majority of opioid deaths were from synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl.
  • The overdose death rate involving fentanyl nearly quadrupled between 2016 and 2021 in the U.S.

State of play: The Biden administration has sought to crack down on the fentanyl trade, pledging to work with China to curb the flow of chemical precursors to fentanyl.

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