More than 321,000 American children lost a parent to drug overdose in ten years

An estimated 321,566 children lost a parent to drug overdose in the US from 2011 to 2021, according to new research published in JAMA Psychiatry. During that decade, the rate of children who lost a parent to overdose increased from 27 per 100,000 people in 2011 to more than 63 in 2021. The highest rate was among non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives, but non-Hispanic Black parents aged 18 to 25 years had the largest increase in drug overdose deaths.

“Parents’ overdose death can have a profound short- and long-term impact on their children, yet little was known about the number of children who have lost a parent to drug overdose in the US,” researchers wrote. 

The study found that while overdose death rates increased for both fathers and mothers, more children lost their dad than their mom.

Researchers say that program and policy planning involving the overdose crisis should take into account the families and children impacted by drug deaths.

“Including addressing the economic, social, educational, and health care needs of children who have lost parents to overdose,” researchers wrote.

Researchers used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2010-2014 and 2015-2019) and the National Vital Statistics System (2011-2021).