Updated on December 3, 2021
With the first few months of school now behind us and the kids more used to reconnecting with their peers, now is a good time to have an open and honest conversation with our kids about fentanyl.
This powerful synthetic drug has changed the landscape of drug use in our region. In 2015, only three people died from a fentanyl-related overdose in King County. By 2021, that number is expected to grow to 350 or more.
Particularly alarming, there has been a significant increase in overdose deaths among young people. These deaths were once rare in King County: between 2008 and 2018, an average of 4 people aged 19 or younger died each year from an overdose. This year so far there have been 21.
Why fentanyl is ruthless
The current drug supply is particularly dangerous, in part because such a small amount of fentanyl can be fatal. Fentanyl is estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin, and even one pill or one dose is enough to kill a young person.
King County Strategic Advisor Brad Finegood explained in a recent podcast how the availability of pill-form opioids has led some young people to experience them more easily.
âHe lowered the initial threshold for opioid use for the first time. Previously you would have needed to smoke heroin or use a needle to consume heroin, and it’s a huge jump in threshold to get to that point with experimental use. We also know that experimenting is somewhat normal for young people, and if they feel comfortable experimenting with pills, then it becomes a really dangerous mix, âFinegood said on the podcast. Addressing the Opioid Crisis: It’s Time to Act, produced by the National Academy of Medicine and the Aspen Institute.
Add another ingredient to this mix: Young people’s developing brains are programmed to make spontaneous decisions, and young people may not have enough information to assess the real risks of their behavior. And fentanyl is ruthless.
That’s why they need love, support, and the right information from their parents and other trusted adults. Public Health and the Department of Community and Social Services have launched a campaign called Laced and deadly, aimed at educating children and adults about the dangers of pills, powders and other drugs containing fentanyl.
Laced and Lethal includes downloadable resources for teens and a discussion guide for adults on how to talk to young people about risks.
Talking with Adolescents: Explaining Reality
Effective conversation with young people about fentanyl will focus on listening and the facts, not judgment. We know that young people want the adults around them to give them information and support them in making decisions. Just telling children to âdon’t do drugsâ can cause those most at risk to switch off.
Listen first: ask your teen non-judgmental questions. Is fentanyl something you heard about on the news or at school? What did you hear? Do you think the risks are exaggerated? Where do you think teens your age are likely to start using pills and why? Even if teens seem to ignore you, continue to provide non-judgmental support and frequent conversations. Research tells us that parents and the influential adults who support them can and do make a difference in whether a young person will engage in risky behaviors.
It is also an opportunity to provide factual information to adolescents. Adolescents should be aware that medicines containing fentanyl are common and that the first dose can be fatal.
Pills containing fentanyl appear to be the same as pills prescribed by doctors. In King County, fentanyl is most commonly found in counterfeit blue, greenish, or light-colored pills, often marked “M30”. They are often referred to as blues, M-30, percs (because legitimate pills with the same brands are called Percocet) or other names. The fentanyl in these drugs is often produced on the illicit market. It is not medical grade and it is not regulated for safety.
Be clear about the risk
An amount of fentanyl the size of two grains of salt is enough to cause a fatal overdose. It’s tasteless, odorless, and impossible to see: There’s no way to tell by looking at a pill or powder if it contains a potentially fatal amount of fentanyl.
It helps teens to know that the person selling or sharing the medicine may not even know that the pills contain fentanyl. The danger is not limited to drugs bought from a stranger on the street or online. Adults should dispel the myth that drugs from “trusted sources”, including friends or known dealers, are safe. They are not. Pills and powders from any source (apart from a healthcare provider or pharmacy) should be assumed to contain this deadly ingredient, making every dose a risk.
Help them find naloxone
Tell your teens that overdose deaths are preventable. One of our most powerful tools for saving lives is naloxone, also known as Narcan. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse an overdose of opioids (such as fentanyl) almost immediately. It can be administered either by nasal spray or by injection.
Young people may not know about naloxone, or if they do, they may not have it with them or not know where to get it. Naloxone is widely available and legal for all ages.
- Young people and adults can order free naloxone privately for delivery online. Find a link to order on LacedAndLethal.com.
- Local suppliers such as pharmacies offer naloxone without a prescription. Find a list of providers offering free naloxone at StopOverdose.org.
Note that young people and adults seeking help for someone who has overdosed are legally protected from prosecution for drug possession by Washington State’s Good Samaritan Law.
Emphasize the importance of looking out for one another
The Laced and Lethal Discussion Guide for Talking to Adolescents suggests emphasizing the need for young people to care for one another.
When a person overdoses, they cannot take naloxone. By carrying naloxone all the time, letting others know they have it, and accompanying friends who use it, teens can reduce the chance that a friend will die of an overdose.
Our young people need compassion right now
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this period has been extremely difficult for many young people. Children and adolescents can be vulnerable in ways that are not obvious or visible.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” Brad Finegood said on the Time to act podcast. âAll of these impacts on each other, the social isolation and depression that came with the COVID pandemic, have just taken their toll on our youth – in a very calm, yet real way. And we really see it in the results of overdoses. ”
Finegood emphasizes that reducing the stigma surrounding drug use, including having open, non-judgmental conversations about it with our teens, is critical to preventing more harm and more deaths. âIf we can really start to change the culture of how we think of people with complex behavioral health issues and who may use substancesâ¦ we can go far. “
For more information on the risks of fentanyl, our toolkit for community organizations provides information and campaign material.
Recent trends in fentanyl overdose since July
Originally posted Dec 2, 2021