October 21-27, 2019 Is National Addiction Treatment Week

Earlier this month, the popular television show Sesame Street revealed that a character named Karli has been in foster care because her mother was seeking treatment due to her struggles with addiction. Karli's character is meant to help both children and caregivers understand addiction and why parents may have to be absent for a period of time as they recover, and the online resources featuring Karli also include a 10-year-old girl who has parents in recovery. The creators of Sesame Street hope that including characters such as Karli will help other children feel that they are not alone in their experiences. Their other goal is to reduce the stigma and judgment that can come with having parents who struggle with addiction or are in treatment, or being a parent in these situations. Increasing awareness, especially beginning at such a young age, can help lead to a stigma-free environment, paving the way to accessing appropriate, evidence-based treatment. Karli's revelation comes at a very appropriate time, as October 21 to 27 is National Addiction Treatment Week.

"Highlighting the fact that there are many children out there with parents who are struggling with addiction and receiving treatment is so important and I commend Sesame Street's producers for including this character in the program and making resources available for both children and caregivers to help explain the situation in an age-appropriate manner. Seeking treatment and going through the process of recovery is one of the most positive actions that a person can take, and it is a shame that stigma makes individuals feel ashamed to seek help. There are numerous evidence-based treatments out there, and most of them have good success rates. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that treatment is available and it works," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

According to statistics provided by the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

  • In 2018, approximately 20.3 million people aged 12 and older had substance use disorders (SUD) related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year, but only about 17% of those diagnosed with addiction are receiving the treatment they need.
  • When looking to be assessed for treatment, less than 1/3 of participants secured appointments within 24 hours, 40 percent of patients waited for treatment for three to seven days, and 12 percent waited for more than a week.
  • An estimated 2 million Americans were addicted to opioids, yet only about 400,000 people received treatment at specialty facilities.
  • Just 2 percent of all providers are trained to provide medications for addiction treatment.
  • Nearly 90 percent of large rural counties lack sufficient numbers of opioid treatment programs.
  • Alcoholism is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Raising awareness about SUD by speaking up about personal experiences and educating individuals about the treatment options can help to greatly reduce stigma and encourage more people to seek treatment. There is no shame in admitting that a SUD exists. There are many treatment options available, and recognizing that a problem exists and taking steps to seek treatment is the first step to recovery.

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