The synthetic opioid fentanyl is unfortunately an essential topic that tweens and teens need to know about to protect themselves from harm. In fact, it’s a matter of life or death — even if you don’t think your child uses illegal drugs.
Even though overall teen drug use has actually declined, drug overdose deaths and fentanyl poisoning deaths among teens have been on the rise since 2019, and soared during the pandemic. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control data, 84 percent of adolescent overdose deaths from 2019 to 2021 involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl, and nearly 25 percent involved counterfeit pills.
“What was an opioid epidemic is now a fentanyl crisis causing an unacceptable number of completely preventable deaths among teenagers. … It’s not that more teens are using dangerous drugs, but rather that those who are using the drugs are increasingly likely to die from them,” noted Linda Richter, vice president for prevention research and analysis at the New York-based Partnership to End Addiction.
Fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, is being substituted or mixed in with other drugs because it is potent and cheap to manufacture. It can be found in opioids, party drugs like MDMA, and counterfeit pills that are made to look like prescription drugs including painkillers, ADHD medications, anxiety pills, or sleep aids. These pills are widely available for sale on social media, so teens are at risk of accidental poisoning and death.
Rather than lecturing or exaggerating to your teen about the dangers of drugs, or condemning them or their friends for experimenting with pills, it’s important to keep the discussions factual and practical, open and curious, and nonjudgmental.
Start the conversation about fentanyl
“Have you ever heard of fentanyl? What have you heard about it?
Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller that is so strong that it has been causing a lot of accidental deaths and poisonings. Even a tiny amount the size of two grains of salt can cause an overdose.
The reason it’s important to know about is that there are people selling pills and party drugs that have fentanyl in them. Young people have died from taking them, and they didn’t even know they were taking fentanyl.
[Share a news story from your area.]
But people who are aware of this can help their friends from becoming victims.”
Be armed with the practical facts
“Fentanyl is often mixed in with or subbed in for other substances because it is cheap to make and is super strong and addictive, so drug sellers and producers make a lot more profit when people buy drugs containing fentanyl.
Fentanyl can be a powder or liquid, so it can be mixed with any kind of drug. You can’t see, smell, or taste whether something has fentanyl in it or not. It can be made to look exactly like MDMA or cocaine, or prescription pills like Percocet, Oxycodone, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax.
So basically, if there’s a pill or drug that wasn’t prescribed directly to you by a doctor, it could contain fentanyl. There is no other ‘safe source’ because you don’t know who made it.”
Explain how to get help and prevent death
“If someone ends up taking something laced with fentanyl or taking too much of any opioid drug, they can overdose — they literally stop breathing or their breathing slows way down.
But that person’s life can often be saved, if someone with them calls 911 right away. Most states have Good Samaritan laws that say you can get emergency help for an overdose victim without getting in trouble.
Should we look up the laws in our state?
There’s a medication called naloxone (also known as Narcan) that can stop an overdose or fentanyl poisoning. Hospitals, police, and EMTs all have naloxone on hand. You can even buy it in a pharmacy to keep at home.
If you want to know more about that or anything else, I’d be happy to research it together.”
Offer support and an open door policy
“If you or a friend is ever in a situation involving pills or drugs of ANY kind — or even if you see something you’re not so sure about on social media — you can ALWAYS come to me for help.
I won’t be mad at you for coming to me. I’ll be proud of you, because you could really help save someone’s life.”