How to Talk to Your Family about Fentanyl

Fentanyl is the #1 health crisis in the United States, and it’s only getting worse. Over 107,000 Americans died from drug poisoning in 2021 alone, with the majority (66%) of those deaths coming from the opiates like fentanyl, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. The drug is extremely potent and has incredible addiction potential. In the last few years, fentanyl has regularly made headlines because it is consistently targeted at teens and young people through social media sites like Snapchat.

So, how can we protect ourselves and our families? Below are three steps you can take to protect your family—especially teens and young adults—about the devastating realities of fentanyl.

Step 1: Educate Yourself About the Risks of Fentanyl

Before discussing fentanyl and other substances as a family, it’s important to know the risks and realities of opioids. This will help you not only start the conversation, but be able to explain why it needs to be discussed in the first place.

The first thing to know is that “one pill can kill.”  This isn’t like the old days where we can wait to see the signs of drug use to confront our loved ones.  In the case of fentanyl, if you take it one time, it can kill you.  Fentanyl’s potency is why accidental overdose is the #1 killer of adults aged 18-45 in the U.S.

Be aware that any illegal drug is likely to contain fentanyl, and this includes counterfeit drugs that are marketed as other substances (like Xanax).  Fentanyl is often mixed in with cocaine and has killed many users, and there has been a rash of high school-aged kids overdosing on fentanyl in their bedrooms because they thought they were taking a different drug that they obtained off a social media site.

It will also be productive to obtain the nasal spray Narcan and learn what to do in the event of an overdose.  This life-saving inhaler has saved many lives as it can reverse an overdose.

Step 2: Start the Conversation

Having a discussion about fentanyl (or any drug topic) doesn’t have to be a complicated process. You could call a family meeting or simply talk with a family member one-on-one. The important part is ensuring the conversation is neutral, informative, and non-judgmental.

The best time to have a conversation about a deadly drug like fentanyl is long before you suspect anyone in the family of needing intervention since knowledge is often the first step in preventing accidental poisoning, overdose, or addiction. This also helps the conversation to be impartial and informative.

Part of a healthy conversation around drugs like fentanyl is asking hard questions and finding out information together. You don’t need to know all the answers, but you can support your loved ones in getting educated and finding out the facts as a family. Sometimes that involves searching for the answers online or even seeking a substance abuse counselor, a mental health specialist, or a support group together.

Step 3: Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Drugs and alcohol are often stigmatized, but they don’t have to be. Having an open dialogue about substances will not increase the likelihood that a family member will use or abuse substances and can be a lifeline if they need help in the future. Remind your family members, especially teenagers, that your family is a safe space to have difficult conversations about drugs and alcohol and that you’ll always be there in the event of an emergency.

Often the fear of stigma, consequence, or judgment prevents family members from asking for support when it is needed most. Maintaining an open conversation about the effects and realities of fentanyl early will equip your family with the necessary tools to avoid the drug and deal with the dangers should use or accidental overdose occur.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been in active recovery since 1984, and dedicated his life and career to supporting others in their recovery journeys.  He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug treatment program in San Diego.

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