Young people as young as middle school need to know just one pill from a friend or a drug dealer can secretly contain a deadly amount of fentanyl. That's the warning being issued by experts on drug abuse and a father who lost his son to an accidental fentanyl overdose.
David Magee, author of Things Have Changed: What Every Parent (and Educator) Should Know About the Student Mental Health and Substance Misuse Crisis told CBN News his son William seemed on top of the world. He was a track star and honors student at Ole Miss. Then the unthinkable happened.
"Oh he was the best. You know, he was in youth group every week at church," he said.
Beginning in high school and through college, however, William treated his anxiety with prescription medication he bought on the street.
After rehab, it appeared William kicked his habit, but after an apparent relapse, his father found William dead from an accidental overdose. Davis learned his son bought and took a pill that he didn't know contained a deadly amount of fentanyl.
"I grew up wondering, trying to get a picture of the devil, thinking it was this little person in a red suit. Well, my family found out what that devil is, and it was fentanyl."
The grieving father recommends parents talk to their children about their emotions as early as possible.
"You have to start the conversation in middle school if not a little sooner," he said, adding that parents need to warn their children about taking pills that they get from unreliable sources, "You have to help them understand that if you take a pill it needs to come from your doctor and your pharmacy."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's up to 100 times more potent than morphine. In fact, it's so powerful only a speck, just two milligrams, can kill. That's the size of a few grains of salt.
Drug dealers often add a little fentanyl to the prescription pills they manufacture in illegal labs, where they make counterfeit versions of medications like Xanax, Adderall, Percocet, Oxycontin, and more. They add fentanyl to make the drugs more addictive and keep their customers coming back for more. However, sometimes these pills contain deadly amounts of fentanyl. That's why people of all ages who take pills purchased on the street are overdosing from fentanyl without ever intending to take the drug, even children as young as middle school.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has monitored illicit drug use among middle school children for more than 40 years. Current director Dr. Nora Volkow told CBN News today's numbers represent a good news-bad news scenario. On one hand, she says the number of middle school children who are using illicit drugs is lower than in previous years. However, those who are taking them face a much greater risk of death than in the past.
"We have never seen a situation where the drugs in the illicit market actually were as dangerous as what we've been observing the past three years, and this accounts for why between 2019 and 2021 we have seen a very large jump in teenagers dying from overdoses from fentanyl," she said, adding many are accidental. "We're seeing so many people dying from overdoses without even knowing that they were consuming fentanyl."
The Smartphone Connection
Technology has a major impact in making today's drug trade more prevalent. Kelly Newcom, founder of Brave Parenting told CBN News that parents need to become educated about teen drug use.
"There are so many lies of the enemy, Satan, who wants to take away our kids and take them captive. And we do have a very hard and important role as parents right now," she said.
For example, parents need to be aware that kids who buy so-called "street drugs," such as counterfeit prescription pills, no longer have to meet a dealer in some random alley or on an actual street as they did in years past. Today, all they have to do is make a deal on their smartphone, in some cases right under their parents' noses.
"Social media connects everybody and makes it so easy, especially on Snapchat, when these conversations automatically disappear, there's no record. So they think they can get away with it, both the seller and the buyer," Newcom said.
The pills are then usually dropped-off, even on the front doorstep, disguised for instance, as a food delivery.
"Kids should not have full access to social media on their smartphones, or even at-home computers at those young ages," Newcom said/ "Brave Parenting stands by sixteen. That's when the frontal lobe is so much more developed and they can handle these temptations so much better."
The Emotional Piece
Psychologists say starting in middle school, teenagers can experience tremendous emotional upheaval. For this reason, many young people reach for pills to feel something different.
"It might be that they take it to get some sort of high, or calming effect," licensed psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD told CBN News about drugs such as Oxycontin or Xanax, adding drugs like Adderall are appealing for different reasons. "Kids will take it to party all night, or stay up all night and be online when their friends are online in the middle of the night."
Rubenstein recommends parents try to make their children feel comfortable talking about their emotional challenges, adding it's helpful when parents explain to their children if they ever want to take prescription medication it must be prescribed by their doctor and purchased at a pharmacy.
"They're hearing about it in a way that maybe it's prescribed, versus the ones where you get it not prescribed, which is very, very dangerous. And so kids might come at it from a 'I need this emotionally. I'm scared to go to my parents,'" Dr. Rubenstein explained.
Newcom said parents should try to eliminate distractions when they attempt to discuss drug use with their children.
"Look up from our own screens, look up from our own phones, and engage with our children in meaningful ways," she said. "Teaching them and showing them that just because the world is this way, doesn't mean we as Christians are going to engage the same way."