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As a parent, as well as an addiction professional, stories like the ones described in the NBC News article “When One Pill Kills” haunt me. The article describes the terrible discovery that all too many families are making – their teen son or daughter slumped over, a victim of a fatal fentanyl overdose.
What’s especially disturbing about the lost children in this story is that they were not intending to take fentanyl, but that is what ended their lives. The fatal drugs were purchased on Snapchat – which is the most popular app for teens in the U.S.
Overdose toll Tops 107,000 in 2021
Overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic has been a much deadlier scourge – the fentanyl overdose epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 107,000 people in the United States died of an opioid overdose in 2021. In fact, accidental overdose is now the #1 killer of people aged 18-45 in the United States. Opioids, like fentanyl, are involved in 70% of those overdoses, according to the CDC.
Those of us in the field of addiction treatment have been trying to ring the alarm bells loudly, but we’ve lost so many young people along the way, it can feel hopeless.
“Expect Fentanyl” and Take Action with Your Kids Now
Parents have been calling upon Snapchat’s parent company SNAP to address the app’s popularity as an opioid marketplace, but we can’t afford to wait for the app to address the problem, as teens will inevitably transition to another platform to seek out drugs, if necessary.
We also can’t afford to wait for the traditional behavioral “red flags” to present themselves in our children. In years past, I would counsel parents to look for signs of drug use to present themselves before approaching their child about their drug use. The time for waiting is long past.
The Santa Clara Opioid Overdose Prevention Project in California has the right idea with their promotion of the hashtag #ExpectFentanyl. The point of their social media awareness campaign is that we need to be proactive and warn our kids about fentanyl before they accidentally ingest it.
What to Say and Do
The important thing is to take action and make sure your teen understands the danger of fentanyl.
- Explain to your teen in no uncertain terms that ‘one pill can kill’ and that when someone gives them a drug, they have no idea what is inside of it. This is a conversation that so many bereaved parents wish they could have had before it was too late.
- Make sure your teen knows that you are there to help them if they are using drugs and/or struggling with mental health. Many fentanyl fatalities are teens who have taken counterfeit Xanax, due to experiencing anxiety. Encourage your teen to ask for your help if they need it.
- Get Naloxone (Narcan) and learn how to use it. Narcan is a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose if taken in time. It’s widely available at many pharmacies without a prescription, and many parents have saved the lives of their children by using it.
I always encourage parents to take a moment to give their child a chance to respond, and remain supportive and non-judgemental while they are listening. Parents need to really listen to what their son or daughter has to say so that their teens can feel heard and therefore will hopefully go to their parents for help in the future if they are ‘at-risk’ of taking a drug that may contain fentanyl..
Get Some Trained Help from a Counselor
I know from my personal experience as a father that it can be daunting to connect with your teen over this type of sensitive subject. Fortunately, there is a ton help available in the form of trained family counselors. It’s always helpful to talk with a behavioral health professional about your specific situation, and the counselor will likely have insight and tools to help you take proactive steps to protect your child. You can start by contacting The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) Treatment Locator, which is a toll-free number that is staffed 24/7. That line can be reached by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman is one of the nation’s leading experts on addiction and recovery. He’s made countless public speaking engagements and appearances on television to raise the alarm about the opioid epidemic and spread hope and awareness that there is help available. He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first-responders, and executives achieve long-term recovery.