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Keeping Our Children Safe From Fentanyl Poisoning and Death by Elissa R. Gross, PsyD

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Keeping Our Children Safe From Fentanyl Poisoning and Death by Elissa R. Gross, PsyD, Bergen County Moms

Death by fentanyl, an inexpensive synthetic opioid, is on the rise. In fact, the CDC reported that 107, 375 people in the US died of drug overdoses and poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022. 67% of these deaths involved “synthetic” opioids like fentanyl. Some of these deaths were attributed to fentanyl that had been mixed with other illegal drugs. In many cases, users did not even realize that they were taking fentanyl. Only 2 milligrams of fentanyl, the size of a grain of sand, is a potentially lethal dose, especially for someone who does not have a tolerance to opioids. The administrator of the DEA, Anne Milgram, indicated that a large part of the problem is that drug traffickers and dealers are increasing their profits by mixing fentanyl, which is much cheaper than non-synthetic opioids, with other illicit drugs and/or disguising fentanyl as another drug. Many of those who have ingested fentanyl do not even realize it; often, these individuals are found by friends and loved ones having died from taking the deadly fentanyl.

Because of the rising dangers of the very deadly fentanyl, it is critical that parents speak with their children about drugs and alcohol consumption. Of great concern is that parents may not be aware of what their kids are doing online, many having no idea that their children have been purchasing drugs online from unknown dealers who are lacing drugs with deadly amounts of fentanyl, or simply disguising fentanyl as another drug. Given the rise of drug use, in large part because drugs are so easy to purchase online, it is of utmost importance that parents talk to their kids about the very real dangers of experimentation and drug use during teenage years. In particular, parents need to speak to their children about the dangers of purchasing drugs online.

So, given this epidemic, how can we keep our children safe?

Here are 5 actions you, as a parent, can take:

  • Talk openly, honestly and directly with your kids about drugs, addiction, and the potential for harm and the life-long consequences of addiction. The point is not to scare your child, but rather to be “real” about the impact of addiction. Though it may be uncomfortable, share any family history of addiction you may have.

  • Spend one-on-one time with your child. This will encourage him or her to open up more about what is going on in their lives and create a stronger connection between you so he or she may be more likely to open up about more serious topics, such as drug and alcohol use.

  • Don’t lose your temper! When talking with your child, remaining calm and simply listening and asking open ended questions is the best way to understand more about how he or she feels about alcohol and drug use, experimentation etc. Becoming angry and judgmental or punitive will only cause your child to shut down and no longer risk speaking to you about these things.

  • Share the facts about use, addiction and death from alcohol and drugs among your child’s specific age group. This information about children in the same age group should have a stronger impact than talking about people with whom they cannot relate.

  • Share information about death by fentanyl with your children. Show them news articles, television interviews with parents whose children died by fentanyl and talk about it regularly.

If you are a teen seeing a friend using drugs and/or contemplating purchasing illegal substances, here are some things you might do to help.

  • First and foremost, let them know you aren’t judging them, you just want to help.

  • Make sure to choose a good time and place to talk.

  • Explain your specific concerns; for example, point out things you have noticed when your friend has been using. If your friend is contemplating buying drugs, especially online, share what you have learned about the dangers of drugs, in particular the rise of death by fentanyl which is being disguised as drugs such as Xanax and Adderall.

  • Listen and ask open ended questions.

  • Try to end the conversation talking about next possible steps. For example, try to suggest that your friends speak to a trusted adult.

If you are a teen struggling and/or searching for drugs, here are some ways that you can get help.

  • Talk to a trusted friend or someone your own age first as this may be the easiest way to start.

  • Your best option for getting the most effective help is to speak to a supportive and understanding adult.

  • If you feel that you cannot talk to your parents you might speak to a school counselor, relative, favorite teacher or coach, doctor or trusted family member.

There are also many “youth friendly substance use online resources” available and easily accessible. Examples include:

  • The Kelly Mental Health Resource Centre provides resources for youth and teens about substance use as well as steps to seek help.

  • “Your Room” is a website that offers information about alcohol and drugs, their effects and how to get help for yourself or others.

  • Smart Recovery is a leading self-empowering addiction recovery support group. The website provides resources for teens and youth support programs, meeting locations and an online community.

  • If you are in crisis, you can call the Crisis Call Center, use the Crisis Text Line, or contact the SAMHSA’s helpline.

Frequently Asked Question

People Also Ask How do you protect against fentanyl?

  • The Protecting Kids from Fentanyl Act is a bill passed in 9/22/2022, allowing local agencies to use unused COVID-19 emergency relief funds for purchasing nalaxone and other opioid antagonists , providing training to school personal on the administration of nalaxone, and pro avoiding fentanyl awareness in schools.

  • Of utmost importance is the education about the dangers of fentanyl. Parents need to be made aware of its ease of availability and the fact that fentanyl kills. Children and teens must also be made aware of how serious the dangers of fentanyl are; they must also be made aware that if they purchase drugs of any kind, they may very well be laced with enough fentanyl to kill them immediately.

What effect does fentanyl have on children?

Fentanyl produces effects like other opioids, such as relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, and respiratory depression. Of far more serious concern is that because of the extreme potency of fentanyl, children and teens who ingest fentanyl can lose consciousness , and their breathing can become shallow and weak. They may have a significant decrease in their blood pressure. In many cases, by the time anyone has realized that a child or teen has ingested fentanyl, it is too late. Fentanyl is absolutely lethal.

Why fentanyl is so deadly?

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroine or morphine; it is also cheap to produce, which has made it far easier to access.

What to do if a child is exposed to fentanyl?

Call 911 Immediately; in the case of Fentanyl use, the help of emergency responders who have naloxone can be critical. Because fentanyl is so powerful, the “standard” 1-2 doses of naxolone may not be enough if a child has consumed fentanyl. Be sure to tell the dispatcher that you suspect fentanyl ingestion so they will be prepared with sufficient naloxone.

How can you help?

The best way to help combat death by fentanyl is to become involved in raising awareness of the dangers. There are many organizations all over the country working to raise awareness of deaths caused by fentanyl. There is also now a Fentanyl Awareness day on May 10th.

I have been completely amazed by friends that I have made on Facebook who have lost their children to fentanyl poisoning who have become full time activists in the fight against fentanyl, the imprisonment of dealers of fentanyl who murdered several children and teens, and who continue to raise awareness by presenting at schools all over the country and by working with them government to get bills passed. One such friend I have been incredibly impressed by is Laura Olson Didier who lost her son Zach when he was murdered by fentanyl two years ago. Laura and other parents like her have worked diligently to raise awareness and to make sure that other children do not have to die.

Dr. Elissa R. Gross is a licensed clinical psychologist at Lukin Center for Psychotherapy specializing in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders, eating disorders and body image issues, low self-esteem, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-injury and body repetitive behaviors. She also helps clients with adoption and blended family-related issues in children, adolescents, and adults. In her work as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Gross emphasizes the importance of creating a warm, non-judgmental, and safe environment as the foundation for her clients’ therapy. Her client-centric, collaborative approach to treatment pairs support and validation with practical feedback and solution-focused strategies. Dr. Gross has a passion for helping families improve communication, and she is currently working on a book series to educate parents about children and adolescents struggling with issues around blended families, eating disorders, and self-injury, as well as adoption-related developmental, attachment, and relationship distress. Dr. Gross has completed extensive training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family systems therapy, group therapy, and psychodynamic therapy, and she is currently working to become certified in emotional focused therapy (EFT). She has also received advanced training in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – an evidence-based approach to the treatment of PTSD. In addition to her over 20 years of private practice experience, she has also conducted preoperative psychological evaluations for weight loss surgery for over 15 years. After completing her clinical internship at NYU Medical Center’s Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation, Dr. Gross was hired on as a staff member, treating clients via individual and group psychotherapy and supervising doctoral interns. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, part of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. She received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University, where she was an integral member of several research teams that studied the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders at the Duke University Medical Center. An avid equestrian, Dr. Gross is in the process of creating an Equine Assisted Therapy Program at Lukin Center. She is the mother of two teenage sons.

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