What you need to know about fentanyl and the current crisis among teens
The cool October breeze whispered through the air as high school students gathered outside of the school auditorium after the homecoming dance. Anticipation bubbled up in the heart of a 14-year-old girl as her date led her back to his house for a party. He handed her a cup filled with translucent blue liquid, his eyes urging her to take a sip. Not knowing the true contents of the drink, she pressed her lips to the cup and followed his lead.
By the morning, the teen was found unresponsive with fentanyl present in her bloodstream. Within the cup, there was not just alcohol but also a fatal amount of fentanyl resulting in the girl’s death.
This nightmare has become a harsh reality in the face of today’s opioid crisis.
What is fentanyl?
According to the National Institute of Health and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), fentanyl’s two main purposes are to be prescribed to chronic pain patients and for anesthesia during surgery. It is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as an analgesic. It is legally manufactured and distributed in the United States; however, it has been diverted via theft, fraudulent prescriptions, and illicit distribution by patients, physicians, and pharmacists.
Cost and usability:
Further, dealers can easily and cost-effectively obtain dangerous amounts of fentanyl. Because only a small amount of fentanyl is needed to produce the desired effect, it is easier for dealers to smuggle it into the US. Additionally, a small amount of powdered fentanyl can be sold for the same profit as larger amounts of other drugs. Due to the accessibility and price, dealers are lacing other drugs with fentanyl, causing them to make a larger profit and an uptick in accidental overdoses.
What it looks like:
Fentanyl can come in many forms. These include tablets, liquid, powder, Band-Aid-like patches, and in combination with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Typically, individuals abuse the substance through injection, snorting, smoking, pills, or patches.
Common street names:
Further, parents should also be mindful of the various names for fentanyl. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these names include Friend, Jackpot, Apache, and Murder 8.
Fentanyl potency and the dangers
Effects on the body:
Because fentanyl is like other commonly used opioids, it yields effects such as relaxation, pain relief, euphoria, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea.
Signs of fentanyl overdose:
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), when a fentanyl overdose occurs, the person’s ability to breathe can stop or slow. When this happens, a decrease in oxygen to the brain causes a condition called hypoxia, which often leads to a coma, brain damage, or death. This extreme response is due to the drug’s high potency.
The respiratory depression caused by fentanyl can manifest in many ways. The warning signs of overdose include choking, discolored nails, falling asleep/ loss of consciousness, and small “pinpoint pupils.” Because fentanyl is so potent, a very small amount can end a life.
Fentanyl use and teens
Fentanyl overdose numbers continue to rise sharply as the illicit drug floods communities. Often distributed as bright-colored pills (appearing like candy), they are marketed toward kids and teens. The tragic and harsh realities of the opioid crisis have become all too real for parents and teens as these numbers continue to rise.
The growing fentanyl crisis among teens:
According to a report by the CDC, more than 2,200 teens fatally overdosed from July 2019 to December 2021, with fentanyl involved in 84 percent of deaths.
Experts believe the epidemic of teen fentanyl use and overdoses occurs due to the crumbling youth mental health crisis.
Another CDC report found that 41 percent of teens who died of an overdose had evidence of mental health conditions or treatment.
Additionally, an NBC News story on the issue featured Dr. Scott Hadland, an addiction specialist and head of adolescent medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Hadland stated, “Fentanyl began seeping into the teen population before the pandemic, but the period of social isolation negatively affected mental health in young people, leading some to seek out ways to self-medicate with drugs that are not prescribed to them, and which are often counterfeit.” He also expressed that “[t]een mental health is a crisis upon which the overdose crisis is now superimposed.”
Drug deals through social media:
With modern advances in technology, teens are at risk of being targeted victims of the fentanyl overdose crisis. Many drug dealers use forms of social media, such as Snapchat, as a vehicle for dealing drugs laced with fentanyl. The Partnership for Safe Medicines and NBC News have identified at least 15 states where Snapchat is linked to the dealing of fatal fentanyl. Teens are accessing these drugs to experiment and are increasing their risk of accidental fatal overdose.
With the rise of social media and technology use in young people, it is vital to attack this issue with full force. The DEA has found that drug dealers and traffickers use emoji codes to sell prescription drugs through social media. Further, mobile payment apps such as Venmo, Zelle, Cash App, and Remitly are used when making payments for a drug deal. In 2021, the DEA investigated over 80 cases involving drug trafficking on internet apps such as Snapchat.
Answers to the crisis
However, there is great hope in the face of the fentanyl epidemic and teens. States like Texas are passing new legislation to combat the current crisis and provide education for prevention. On June 14, 2023, Governor Greg Abbott signed four laws to combat the growing fentanyl crisis:
- Fentanyl deaths will be prosecuted like murder.
- Death certificates will reflect when people are poisoned by fentanyl.
- Lifesaving NARCAN, a medicine that can help people who are overdosing on an opioid, will be more readily accessible to Texas colleges and universities.
- Young Texans will be educated about the dangers of fentanyl with House Bill 3908, also known as Tucker’s Law, which requires public schools each year to provide research-based instruction on fentanyl abuse prevention and drug poisoning awareness to students grades 6 through 12. Further, this bill requires the Governor to designate a Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Week once a year.
Talking to your teen about the fentanyl crisis:
In addition to the passage of new laws surrounding fentanyl, having regular conversations with your teens and loved ones about the dangers of fentanyl and the resources available can be lifesaving.
- Fostering close connections with your teens may also allow you to see warning signs of substance abuse. These warning signs include increased anxiety, depression, and sudden change in demeanor.
- Further, having NARCAN on hand may be an effective weapon against overdose. Because fentanyl comes in a variety of forms, it can be spread with ease. Your teen may not be aware of their exposure to fentanyl, resulting in an accidental overdose. Simply leaving their water bottle out during football practice or a soccer tryout can put them at risk of the drug being dropped unexpectedly into the water. If you have NARCAN readily available, you may be able to provide your child with the help they need to survive.
Book a YES Student Program!
Empower students to say “YES!” to their dreams and goals and “no” to drugs and alcohol. Through our drug and alcohol prevention programs, students will learn the impact that substance abuse and addiction can have on their health, family, and future goals (when it comes to their education and career). Presented by grade level with age-appropriate content, we cover topics such as nicotine (including vaping and dabbing), alcohol, marijuana, synthetic drugs, and misuse or sharing of prescription drugs. More specifically, around the topic of fentanyl, we present national data about fentanyl and its potency, provide information regarding the dangers of “fentapills” (fake prescription pills laced in fentanyl), and educate students on what to do if they think someone is overdosing.
Want to learn more about our drug and alcohol prevention programs? Please send us a message through our Book Now page, and someone from our YES team will be in touch with you within one business day.
YES Motivational Moments Mini Video Series
PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS: Watch this video with the child in your life and then use the discussion questions below to help guide your conversation.
Question 1: What are the three most common reasons some teens choose to use drugs and/or alcohol?
Question 2: What pressures do you face daily, and what positive healthy choices can you help alleviate them?
Question 3: What dreams and goals are you saying, “YES!” to when choosing to say, “no” to drugs and alcohol?