Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, called fentanyl “the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.” Perhaps most alarmingly, she continued, “From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison.” Of the 107,375 drug-related deaths in the U.S. from January 2021 to January 2022, 67 percent involved fentanyl. As a parent, it’s normal to assume the best from your child – that this crisis isn’t something that will ever affect them personally. Tragically, many parents who have lost kids to fentanyl poisoning would have echoed those thoughts at one point. There is no downside to talking frankly to your kids about fentanyl. At worst, the information is irrelevant to them. At best, you could save their life.
Start a conversation by asking your child what they already know (or think they know) about the fentanyl crisis. The conversation likely won’t be as effective if your child immediately feels like they’re attending a school lecture (or church sermon). Set the right tone: this is a discussion and you’re equal participants. You might be surprised to hear what they already know, and it may be the perfect starting place for a productive talk.
Share the facts.
Telling your child that “fentanyl is dangerous and people are overdosing on it” is not sufficient. This can give teens the idea that, as long as they don’t knowingly purchase or ingest fentanyl, they are safe. In reality, many of the individuals who died of fentanyl overdose weren’t aware they were taking fentanyl at all. Here are some of the things your teen should understand:
- Fentanyl is one of the cheapest illicit substances, so drug dealers are using it as “additives” in all sorts of drug products.
- The DEA has reported that 1 in 4 pills are laced with fentanyl.
- Fentanyl is fifty times stronger than heroin and two salt-sized grains of fentanyl can kill a person.
- While it’s often found in cocaine and heroin, it has also been found in pills disguised as oxycodone, Adderall, and Xanax.
- Fentanyl-laced products have been purchased over TikTok, Snapchat, and other social media platforms.
You may not be worried about your teen using heroin or cocaine, but what about taking an acquaintance’s Adderall for a little study boost during finals? Purchasing a single Xanax pill for help sleeping? I can promise you: those things are happening daily in the local high school. If you have a picture in your head about the type of person who dies from fentanyl, erase that image. It can happen to anyone.
Ditch the judgment at the door.
We all have our own thoughts and values surrounding drugs, and we certainly have our own beliefs about how our children should act. For the sake of this conversation, try to leave all your judgments and biases at the door. This is a time to share facts and resources, and to empower your child to use this information to make healthy, safe choices. Often, when teens feel judged, shamed, or as if they’re being preached to, they simply tune out.
Talking about this without judgment doesn’t mean you are co-signing any bad behavior or abandoning your parental duty to protect and guide your children. Instead, it means giving them a safe place to ask questions, share their own experiences and perspective, and learn something about a scary topic without fearing punishment or a negative reaction.
Teach them about Narcan and the Good Samaritan Law.
In 2021, Governor Abbott signed a Good Samaritan Law which protects people “from getting in trouble for small amounts of illegal drugs or having drug paraphernalia should they seek help for someone who is having a drug overdose.” If your teen is ever around someone who they suspect is overdosing, they can get help without fear of repercussion. In these situations, a lifesaving medication called Narcan can be administered to reverse the effects of fentanyl and potentially save a life.
Despite Fentanyl’s enormous death toll, many people are under the impression that it’s not in their community or it can’t affect them. The fact of the matter is that this drug is everywhere, and ignorance is not bliss. In this situation, knowledge is the best defense.