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Dangers of Fentanyl-Laced Drugs

Test tube with a white powder in it and labeled fentanyl  

Many people have heard about the opioid epidemic in teens and adults that has been a growing problem in the United States. There has been an increase in the number of people trying, becoming addicted to and dying from opioid drugs. One opioid that has often been in the news is fentanyl. This drug has recently been involved in the overdose deaths of people like Prince, Lil Peep, and Mac Miller. Fentanyl statistics show that over the past decade, deaths due to this drug have risen much more than have deaths caused by any other drug.

What Is Fentanyl?

Opioids are medications used to relieve pain. They can be further classified as synthetic opioids or natural opioids. Natural opioids include heroin and morphine and are made from the poppy plant. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and methadone, are manufactured in a lab.

Fentanyl may be sold as a patch that a person wears on their skin, or it may come in the form of a spray, pill, blotter paper or powder. It is sometimes prescribed by doctors for severe pain. Compared with morphine, fentanyl is 50-100 times stronger. It’s also up to 50 times stronger than heroin. People need much less fentanyl to feel its effects, and this makes it much easier to overdose.

Fentanyl Now the Deadliest Opioid

Increasing numbers of people are using fentanyl. About 228,000 people, or 0.1% of Americans aged 12 and older, said that they had abused prescription fentanyl in 2016. This number is probably an underestimate, however — it doesn’t include fentanyl made in illegal labs or people who unknowingly used fentanyl after it was mixed with other drugs. Among teens aged 12–17, 2.8% recently said that they’d misused a prescription painkiller in the last year.

The number of deaths due to fentanyl has drastically increased in recent years. In 2016, 46% of all opioid-related deaths were caused by fentanyl and other laboratory-made opioid drugs. Many deaths from fentanyl also involve other illegal drugs or alcohol. In some cases, people will purposely take multiple substances at the same time. In other cases, overdoses happen because people don’t know they’ve taken fentanyl. Fentanyl overdose statistics show that overdoses on heroin and prescription opioids are also rising because these drugs are more frequently laced with fentanyl.

There have been several recent news stories, in states like Washington and Arizona, about teens who have overdosed on fentanyl and died as a result. Areas of the Midwest have also been reporting the rise of Narcan-resistant fentanyl. While fentanyl overdoses can usually be treated with Narcan, people who overdose on this alternate form of fentanyl sometimes can’t be saved.

How Are Teenagers Getting Fentanyl?

Occasionally, teen opioid abuse begins when a kid is prescribed an opioid painkiller and they become dependent on or addicted to the drug. They may then try to find other painkillers that can give them the same effects. Most teens, however, are given prescription drugs by friends or family. Teens also abuse prescription drugs after stealing them from a medicine cabinet or buying them from illegal online pharmacies.

Legal vs. Illicit Versions of Fentanyl

Some people have a fentanyl prescription and use it legally under a doctor’s supervision. When people take someone else’s prescription drugs, however, this is illegal. There are also some clandestine fentanyl labs that make the substance and then sell illegal fentanyl on the black market. Most street fentanyl comes from China because they have fewer laws related to this drug.

Drugs Commonly Laced with Fentanyl

Many people who take this substance don’t know that they’re ingesting it. Cocaine and heroin are some of the drugs often cut with fentanyl. Some dealers also sell counterfeit pain pills or benzodiazepines and add fentanyl to the pills to make them stronger. Because fentanyl can come in a white powder form, coke and heroin are cut with fentanyl by some dealers in order to make it seem like they have more product than they actually do.

Whether there have been cases of marijuana laced with fentanyl is less clear. Police departments in some cities have reported finding these two substances mixed together, while some experts and federal officials have said that none of these cases have been confirmed.

Preventing Drug Use Among Teens

One of the biggest ways that parents can help is by talking to their teens about drugs. Kids need to learn about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and parents can accomplish this by having open, judgment-free conversations. This means talking about both the risks of drug use as well as being honest about the benefits and discussing why some people might choose to use drugs. Teens who get honest information and feel comfortable talking about these issues with their parents are less likely to use drugs.

During these conversations, parents can dismiss myths surrounding drug use. For example, the fact that a substance like fentanyl is sometimes prescribed by doctors doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. Parents can also ask their children if they’ve been in environments where people are using drugs or if their friends have tried certain substances, and try not to immediately react with judgment or punishment if their child says yes.

Teens are also more likely to develop healthier habits and attitudes towards drugs if they can look to their parents as role models. Parents should only take prescription drugs as prescribed, stop taking pills once they aren’t needed and avoid taking medications that were prescribed to someone else. Teens frequently access drugs by raiding their parents’ or their friends’ parents’ medicine cabinets, so adults should keep prescription drugs in a safe place that kids can’t access. Learning how to safely dispose of prescription drugs can also help avoid drugs falling into the wrong hands.

One of the biggest ways parents can help a child who may be struggling with drug use is to get treatment. Rehab programs, therapy, and peer support groups can all help. If you’re worried that your child is at risk of knowingly or unknowingly using fentanyl, call Next Generation Village. We provide teen-focused treatment for substance addictions and can help your family get the support it needs.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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