Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 50 times stronger than heroin. It plays a major role in fatal and non-fatal overdoses. You may be wondering how you can keep your family safe from fentanyl exposure and overdose. Dr. William Goldman, medical director of the Addiction Services Program at Akron Children’s Hospital, answers parents most common questions about the drug.
How do pills get laced with fentanyl?
When people say laced pills, they are talking about counterfeit pills. Since around 2015, counterfeit pills have been increasing in supply. They look like prescription benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc.) and opioids (Oxycontin, Percocets, etc.). Young people tend to feel they are safer by using prescription strength drugs, since they view “street” drugs as more harmful. Drug dealers and cartels have picked up on this behavior and have flooded our community with these pills in the attempt to appeal to a broader range of people who struggle with substance use.
How can people keep themselves safe?
People can keep themselves safe by acknowledging that it is impossible to trust “street” drugs and that they pose an actual risk of death and serious complications.
Should parents be worried about pills that are sold over-the-counter at pharmacies/convenience stores or pills that are prescribed by doctors?
In general, OTC medications are safe. I am not aware of cases of tampering with bottles of OTC medications being laced with fentanyl but would not use a bottle that appears to have been tampered with. Typically, the medications of concern are those that have addictive properties such as opioids and benzodiazepines. In general, a safe rule is do not use other people’s prescriptions and educate people that the only medications that should be taken are those that are prescribed to them and dispensed from a pharmacy.
What else should people know about fentanyl?
Fentanyl can be lethal. The overdose death rate in 2021 was the highest rate ever at approximately 101,000 people in the United States, with about 1200 of those being adolescents. Almost all these overdose deaths, we directly related to a lethal dose of fentanyl. If you or your child are struggling with substance use, please seek out community partners, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, and your local drug boards. Many pharmacies and community agencies have safe ways to dispose of unused medications. Many community agencies and pharmacies are willing to distribute Narcan kits (medication to help reverse fentanyl and other opioids overdoses) for free. Narcan kits in Ohio can be found through agencies working with Project Dawn, as well.
Learn about Akron Children’s Addiction Services Program.