As the parent of an adolescent or young adult child today, you have much to worry about. Yet if you aren’t informed and educated about fentanyl you’re missing a critically important piece of information that could make a life or death difference with your son or daughter. Your child does not have to be in active addiction to die of an overdose.
Let's take a look at what fentanyl is, what you must know about it as a parent, and the conversation you need to have with your teen or young adult child.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a drug that was developed and intended for end-of-life pain management in cancer patients. Fentanyl is listed as a Schedule II1 prescription drug under brand names like Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze® and comes in tablets, an injectable liquid, lozenges and transdermal patches.
It's a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent2. Fentanyl affects people with feelings of relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, and dizziness. Think of it as the effect of an opioid like OxyContin, Hydrocodone or heroin, on steroids.
Street names for fentanyl are Apace, China Girl, China Town, China White, Dance Fever, Goodfellas, Great Bear, He-Man, Poison and Tango & Cash.3
Parents, what you must know about fentanyl
While fentanyl is manufactured and prescribed as a legal drug, it's also made illicitly and has flooded the street-drug world in various formats. Illegal fentanyl is being mixed with other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA (“ecstasy”). Along with other synthetic (man made) opioids, fentanyl is now one of the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States.4
Parents may not give much thought to fentanyl because their son or daughter is only using pot and alcohol,” and say they don't take pills or smoke other drugs. This is a common misperception and can leave parents in the dark about the dangers of fentanyl.
What’s important to know is kids will experiment with different substances, especially the longer they've been using. This experimentation may include trying what your child thinks is a drug like OxyContin, Xanax, or Percocet. They believe they’re taking a prescription-level dose of a legally manufactured drug, when in fact the substance they’re taking doesn’t even closely resemble that. What they may take, the very first time they try a pill, could be a fatal mixture of an illicit opioid or benzodiazepine and fentanyl. Add marijuana and alcohol to the mix and you have the makings of a deadly cocktail.
Even though pills may be (falsely) labeled as OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax, they will more often than not be laced with fentanyl with quantities and combinations that can be deadly.
Have the conversation with your child now!
The danger of fentanyl is real and as an informed parent, talking with your son or daughter about it is imperative. For kids who are in the early experimentation phase, knowing that any pill they consume could be deadly might save their life.
- Having a very straightforward, factual conversation about fentanyl will let them know that taking pills today is playing Russian Roulette - what starts out as an experiment, a boost to the regular fun time could, and too often does, end up in tragedy.
- Ask your teen what they know or have heard about fentanyl and pills - opening a non-judgemental and calm conversation about substances will let your child know they can talk to you about their questions and potential struggles, and even to plan for emergencies.
For kids who have progressed to regular use of opioids or benzodiazepines, the conversation is even more urgent.
- Parents should also keep at least 2 doses of Naloxone (brand name Narcan) in their home, as it can reverse an overdose. Narcan is available without a prescription at pharmacies like Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS and Walmart in all 50 states, and if you have medical insurance, a portion of the cost is usually covered. Being proactive by having Narcan in your home is a protective factor, not an endorsement of substance use.
- If you haven’t already, seek out local resources like a therapist, mentor or counselor who can help you and your child start to deal with their substance use issues. Asking for help can be difficult for parents but there is no shame in wanting to help your son or daughter avoid a tragic accident. Professional counselors start this relationship with empathy, as well as strategy.
Fentanyl is ravaging our country and parents need to be informed that this incredibly potent and lethal drug has made its way into high school hallways and suburban parties. Having the facts and talking frankly and directly with your child about fentanyl is no longer an option, it’s a part of today’s parenting conversation and may save their life. My son was saved twice by Narcan, which gave him the opportunity to make changes in his life. After years of heavy benzodiazepine and opioid use, including fentanyl, my son now thrives in a healthy, drug-free life.
Safe kids start with informed and empowered parents:
Educate yourself on the realities of fentanyl and other street drugs by keeping current with the trends
Learn about prevention strategies that can help your son or daughter avoid the dangers of substance use
- Prepare for the possibility of an overdose by keeping Narcan in your home
- Connect with other parents to avoid feeling isolated and stigmatized if your child is experimenting or struggling with drugs or alcohol
- Listen to Episode 24 of this podcast episode for more detail on fentanyl, overdoses, and the impact of COVID-19
1 Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.
About the Author
Brenda Zane is a Mayo Clinic Certified health and wellness coach and certified parent coach whose work supports moms of kids struggling with substance misuse or addiction. Her mission is to help moms maintain their health and sanity as they navigate the frightening and exhausting experience of having an at-risk child. To fulfill her mission she serves parents through her podcast, Hopestream, a private, membership-based online community, The Stream, and through her free ebook HINDSIGHT: 3 Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Misusing Drugs.
Brenda writes for various publications and is available to speak on topics like parenting kids in addiction, purpose and transformation, self-care and coping strategies, and the impact of the opioid and fentanyl crises.