‘Sesame Street’ to Tackle Opioid Crisis With New Muppet

“My mom’s been going through a tough time. She has what’s called a grown up problem,” green-furred Karli tells viewers

Sesame Street will tackle the opioid crisis and its impact on families with the help of a new Muppet whose parent has a “grown up problem.”

Earlier this year, Sesame Street introduced the green-furred character Karli to its free online program Sesame Street in Communities, with the six-year-old Muppet moving in with a foster family for an unspecified reason. The Today Show reports that the next chapter in Karli’s storyline will reveal that the Muppet’s mother “went away for awhile,” as Elmo puts it, in order to fight her addiction.

“My mom’s been going through a tough time,” Karli says in one scene. “She has what’s called a grown up problem. And grown up problems need grown ups to help fix the problem, so my mom had to go away for a little while.”

“What Karli does is she helps bring to life an issue that a lot of people think of as a grown up issue, and don’t understand the impact on young children,” Sherrie Westin, president of social impact and philanthropy of the Sesame Workshop, told Today.

Joining Karli in her scenes is 10-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose two parents also battled opioid addiction. In the online-only segment, Salia and Karli discuss their parents’ “grown up problem” and reinforce that a parent’s addiction is not the fault of the child. Elmo’s dad will also appear between segments to explain how addiction is a disease.

“There’s nothing else out there that addresses substance abuse for young, young kids from their perspective,” Kama Einhorn, a senior content manager with Sesame Workshop, told the Guardian. “Even a parent at their most vulnerable — at the worst of their struggle — can take one thing away when they watch it with their kids, then that serves the purpose.”

Karli and Salia’s segments are available in both English and Spanish at Sesame Street in Communities. While Karli has not yet appeared on the HBO and PBS broadcasts of Sesame Street, that could change in the future.

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