University of Toronto Research Highlights Impact of Parental Loss Due to Drugs and Firearms on U.S. Youth

May 30, 2024 by Kal Romain


Toronto, ON — The University of Toronto celebrates a significant publication by Dr. Ben Schluter in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). His latest work sheds light on the deeply concerning rates of parental loss among American youth due to drug overdoses and firearm incidents, underlining a growing public health crisis.


The study, which spans from 1999 to 2020, found that over 1.2 million children in the United States have lost a parent to drug-related or firearm deaths. This alarming figure underscores an escalating trend, with drugs and firearms accounting for a quarter of all parental deaths in 2020—a significant increase from just 11% in 1999.


Our research indicates that U.S. youth are at a high and increasing risk of experiencing parental death from drugs or firearms

Dr. Schluter explained in his analysis. "The data reveal a sharp increase in parental deaths over the past two decades, with profound impacts on the affected families."



The study, conducted with collaborators from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and Stanford University, also highlights the disproportionate impact on Black children, particularly from firearm-related deaths. This disparity sheds light on broader systemic issues that intensify the tragedy of loss with deep-rooted social challenges.


As policymakers and the academic community reflect on these findings, this research does more than broaden our academic knowledge—it directly informs public policy and aims to drive initiatives that address this pressing public health issue. The evidence provided in this study highlights critical areas where intervention and support can potentially save lives and reduce the long-term impact on families.


The full study is available in the latest issue of JAMA.