Jan 26, 2024 - Health

How to talk to teens about fentanyl

Narcan nasal spray in a vending machine

Free Narcan nasal spray is sometimes offered in vending machines. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Traces of fentanyl, a deadly substance, are being found in almost every illegal drug seized nowadays, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say.

  • That includes marijuana, as well as in fake Xanax or Percocets.
  • Just two milligrams of fentanyl — small enough to fit on a pencil tip — can be lethal.

Why it matters: Addicts and experimenting teens alike are unknowingly taking this cheap and potentially poisonous drug. Because fentanyl is so accessible and addictive, dealers routinely mix it into their product to increase profits.

What they're saying: "Parents sometimes stick their head in the sand a bit, or they think it's a socioeconomic issue," says Christine Zazzaro, CEO of the McLeod Centers For Wellbeing. "I promise you, it's rampant in all of our communities here in the Charlotte area."

Between the lines: After months of deliberation, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education this week approved a plan to allow more school staff to administer naloxone, a lifesaving overdose-reversal medication.

By the numbers: Fatal overdoses spiked 20% in a year, CMPD reported in November. Of 179 deaths, 60% were under 40.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your child about fentanyl.

Start age-appropriate conversations early.

  • Tell young children not to consume, touch or play with medicine, even if it came from the doctor, CMPD lieutenant Robert Sprague says.
  • Reiterate throughout childhood to never take medicine from anyone but their parents, guardian or doctor.
  • "The earlier you start it, the less awkward it's going to be to have those conversations when they're teenagers," Zazzaro says.

Ramp up conversations by sixth grade. Middle school is when students will most likely start finding themselves in situations with drugs.

  • When your child gets their first cell phone, talk with them about social media. Drug dealers often sell to teens through Instagram and Snapchat.
  • Sprague reminds parents it's OK to check phones. "This isn't an invasion of privacy," he says. "This is ... being a parent."

Need an opener? Ask what they know.

  • Zazzaro suggests, "I was reading an article. It made me curious to know what you've heard about fentanyl."

Keep the conversation information-based. Emphasize that the only safe pill is one that's prescribed by a doctor.

  • Since the rise of fentanyl, dealers have increasingly been stamping fake pills with pressers so they look like they came from the pharmacy, Sprague says.

Real-life examples of overdose may be most effective to get through to teens who feel a sense of invincibility. Explain how fentanyl is a problem in the community.

Encourage questions. If you don't have an answer, a school counselor or primary care physician is usually a great starting point.

Don't judge. Talk about why they may be tempted to take a pill and what problems they're hoping to solve, Zazzaro says.

  • "I'd love to say you start off with,' Just don't do it.' But we know it's been proven in the past that doesn't just work the way that they hoped," Sprague says.

Know that testing strips are a form of harm reduction but can also create a false sense of security. They're more intended for chronic drug users, Zazzaro says.

  • Sellers may try to make customers feel safe by telling them drugs have been tested.

Keep Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, in your first-aid kit and learn how to use it.

  • Show it to your teen to let them know you have it. You can use this as another avenue to open up a conversation.
  • Narcan is sold over the counter at independent and chain pharmacies, from CVS to Pike's Pharmacy. See a map of locations here. Find more information on Naloxonesaves.org.
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