This month we look into the well-being of adolescents and shine a light on the very real and alarming dangers of street drugs, which are targeting kids and teens directly. It’s a problem that has no discrimination of age, gender, or zip code.
“Illegal, unsafe, fake prescription pills are readily available to everyone to purchase,” says Kansas City pharmacist Linda Cortese. “Social media apps, including popular platforms like Snapchat, make purchasing as easy as ordering a pizza delivery online. Images of the substances are advertised through individual snaps and on ‘stories.’ Dealers also use emojis to advertise what is for sale. To assist parents, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has issued an emoji drug decoder to help parents know if, or when, their children are texting about illegal drugs. There is now an increased chance that these illegally manufactured and distributed pills also contain fentanyl, a highly dangerous synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but up to 100 times more potent. An illegal, fake prescription pill laced with fentanyl turns an unknowing buyer into a victim of fentanyl poisoning resulting in death or severe long-term health complications. Reports of fentanyl-involved death rates increased by 56 percent in 2021, according to the CDC,” Cortese says.
Not only has fentanyl been found in some fake opioid prescription pills, but also in other commonly sold pills, such as the addictive, illegal fake Adderall or Xanax pills. It is a crucial time to be hyper-vigilant in arming kids with these facts. Keep in mind that they may find pills more appealing because they are cheap, more socially acceptable than meth or heroin, and do not have easy telltale signs such as an alcohol or marijuana smell.
Cortese stresses that people should assume that any pill sold on the street contains fentanyl, no matter how authentic it might look, no matter how dependable the source. Taking a pill laced with fentanyl can be fatal even to someone with a high tolerance for opioids.
“The adolescent brain is ripe for risk taking, and when it comes to potentially deadly drugs like fentanyl, one impulsive risk can be lethal,” says Chris Sexton, a developmental psychologist and licensed psychotherapist. “Communicating with your child about drug use and other risky behaviors—early and often—is critical. Most parents I speak with report that they have talked to their children about drugs and alcohol, sex, and other difficult topics. However, when I talk to their teens, many have no recollection of these interactions. I think the mistake many of us make as parents is giving a one-time lecture instead of having a series of open-ended conversations.”
The last thing we want to do as adults is to elicit a rebellious response from our kids.
Sexton recommends making this topic a conversation in which you wonder aloud together with your kid about how real the risks are, and how final one mistake can be, rather than delivering a lecture.
Everyone should know about First Call, a nonprofit organization that provides quality resources to individuals, families, and the community to reduce the impact of substance-use disorder.
Margaux Guignon-Mueller, the director of prevention services at First Call, says that Narcan, which is a medication approved by the FDA, is designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. This includes overdoses due to drugs laced with fentanyl. If you suspect that someone has overdosed, administering Narcan (nose spray) may save that person’s life. If someone is unsure if an overdose was related to opioid use, administering Narcan is still recommended, as it will not do any harm. Anyone who knows someone who uses drugs purchased off the street should have access to Narcan. Carrying and administering Narcan is essential in preventing deaths from overdose.
First Call has a supply of Narcan that is free to community members throughout the Kansas City metro area. People can stop by the First Call office to pick up Narcan, or they can call the 24/7 crisis call line and be connected with First Call’s Harm Reduction Specialist, who can arrange to bring the Narcan directly to you.
First Call has a free 24/7 crisis call line, 816-361-5900. To learn more, log onto firstcallkc.org.