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As California’s Fentanyl Toll Climbs, Some Help is on the Way


The nation’s fentanyl death toll continues to explode, and California has been hit hard as well.The substance is finding its way into up to 80% of illegal drugs, and an ever-increasing number of parents are grieving for deceased children, many of whom accidentally overdosed when they took tainted study aids or anxiety medication that they obtained on social media sites like Snapchat.

Legislators are taking notice, and recently, California State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a new multi-million-dollar Fentanyl Enforcement Program.  Over $14 million has been budgeted to create a Fentanyl Enforcement Program over the course of the next two years. Twenty-fivepeople will be hired as part of the state program. The funding is in addition to DOJ’s ongoing efforts.

Can this possibly make a dent in the overdose epidemic? We can hope, but our current efforts are akin to fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun. Combating fentanyl involves everyone in a community, and that includes not only parents, but also any public employee who might have the opportunity to administer life-saving Narcan when they encounter someone suffering from an overdose.

There are so many instances of accidental overdose, that it’s become the #1 cause of death for people aged 18 to 45.  And, that demographic doesn’t include most teens and adolescents.Fentanyl poisoning among Los Angeles teens has more than tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching crisis levels at schools.

Difficulties in Stemming the Tide of Fentanyl

Recently, fentanyl has been smuggled into the country in increasingly clever ways that are difficult for law enforcement to contend with.  Last week, 12,000 pills were seized at LAX in candy wrappers.  The drug is mixed in with counterfeit medications that are created in China and Latin America and then smuggled in over the borders and through courier services.

The ‘peer-to-peer’ nature of social media apps like Snapchat render law enforcement much less able to monitor and intervene than in previous internet eras, when sites like craigslist were used to sell illicit drugs. The existence of dark web sites like The Silk Road are similarly insulated from the reach of law enforcement create a marketplace that can’t be tracked.

It’s Time for Parents to #ExpectFentanyl, and Respond Accordingly

The reality that we might not be able to prevent the fentanyl from getting to our kids puts the onus on us as parents to educate and warn our kids about fentanyl. A teen experimenting with an illegal drug is at far greater risk today because there’s a chance the substance is laced, and it only takes about 2 milligrams of fentanyl to kill a human, officials say.

As a family crisis counselor, I have spoken to a lot of troubled parents whose son or daughter has developed a substance use disorder.  All of these parents wish they could ‘turn back the clock’ and communicate the dangers to their children.

Here are some tips I have given parents who want to protect their children from drugs:

  • Start with the facts about the dangers of drugs and start early (before they are ‘at-risk’).
  • Ask questions, and really listen to the responses.
  • If they ask you something you don’t know the answer to, find the correct answer.
  • Let them do as much of the talking as possible.

But don’t let perfectionism prevent you from giving this a try. Starting a conversation about the dangers of drugs, no matter how awkward and poorly executed, is better than not having the conversation.  Show your teen you love them and help protect them from this insidious danger by talking to them today.

Get Trained Help from a Counselor

It can be daunting to connect with your teen over this sensitive subject. Fortunately, help is available in the form of family counselors.  It’s always helpful to talk with a behavioral health professional about your specific situation, and the counselor will likely have insight and tools to help you take proactive steps to protect your child.   You can start by contacting The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) Treatment Locator, which is a toll-free number that is staffed 24/7. That line can be reached by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman is one of the nation’s leading experts on addiction and recovery.  He’s made countless public speaking engagements and appearances on television to raise the alarm about the opioid epidemic. He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first-responders, and executives achieve long-term recovery.

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