Teens and Opioids

We hear about it frequently. It’s on the evening news, online, and we hear it in conversation. America has an opioid crisis and we’ve had one for decades. It’s nothing new really and perhaps we are even desensitized to it, but opioids and overdoses remain an issue for both adults and teens.

Youth drug deaths have quadrupled over the last 20 years mainly involving fentanyl which has grown 6x since 2016 (songforcharlie.org). Over 10 million pills containing fentanyl have been seized from 2018-2021. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine (CDC, 2023). Although there are two different types of fentanyl, pharmaceutical fentanyl and illegally made fentanyl, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose are linked to illegally made fentanyl (CDC, 2023). This illegally made fentanyl is often added to other substances to create a stronger high or euphoria and it makes it more addictive and likely for an overdose.

A common drug that is laced with fentanyl is weed or marijuana. This includes vaping THC. In fact, fentanyl-laced weed is on the rise, and in 2022 there were nearly 110,000 overdose deaths from the drugs (claudiablackcenter.com).

With vaping being a popular form of ingesting drugs and fentanyl on the rise, teens are essentially playing a game of roulette. They have no idea if the vape cartridge they purchased from a friend has fentanyl in it or not. Are they even concerned or thinking about this possibility? Teens are often impulsive and feel invincible and therefore may very well not be thinking about this potential threat.  

Here are some signs to look for when someone overdoes on fentanyl (CDC, 2023):

  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
  • Falling asleep or losing consciousness
  • Slow, weak, or no breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Cold and/or clammy skin
  • Discolored skin (especially in lips and nails)

Signs that someone has ingested fentanyl (not enough to kill them):

  • Constipation
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory depression

Please talk with your teens about the harms of taking substances and how there could be a chance that what they are vaping or smoking is laced with fentanyl. Educate them and yourself with the signs to look for and if you think your child or someone has ingested or overdosed fentanyl, please call 911 immediately.

For more information or help, please consider calling the SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This is a free, confidential, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service.

Erin Pawlak, MS, LPCC-S
Therapist and Adolescent IOP Director
The Behavioral Wellness Group