In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s more crucial than ever to stay informed about the dangers that can impact our kids and teens. Two of those dangers are fentanyl and xylazine: Substances that are being put into pills that appear to be prescription or legitimate medicines, but are actually illegal counterfeit pills that can be deadly.
Deaths caused by these poisonings are rising, which has led to the increase of unexpected loss of teens and young people in our Kansas City communities.
Fentanyl and xylazine are in our state, our city, and our communities. As adults, we need to take action today to protect our kids from these fake pills laced with lethal substances.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Only 2 milligrams of fentanyl, just a few grains of sand, can be fatal to an adult. This deadly drug cannot be detected by sight, smell, or taste. It can be impossible to tell if a pill is real or fake just by looking at it. Recent DEA lab tests revealed that 7 out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. This deadly drug is used by illegal drug makers to create fake pills that look like real medication. Prescription pills purchased online are often fakes made with fentanyl. Because of this, our kids may encounter fentanyl anywhere – online, at school, or on the street.
What is Xylazine?
Xylazine is a non-opioid tranquilizer used in veterinary medicine, and is not approved for use in humans. It is often mixed with other drugs, most commonly fentanyl, to either enhance drug effects or increase street value by increasing weight. Like fentanyl, this drug is put into fake pills that look like legitimate pills by illegal drug makers. Prescription pills purchased online are often fakes made with fentanyl, and increasingly, xylazine as well. In fact, Missouri experienced a 180% increase in xylazine-related deaths from 39 deaths in 2021 to 109 in 2022.
The most worrying aspect of xylazine is that because it is not an opioid, life-saving Naloxone does not work on xylazine. However, it’s important to note that because xylazine is often used with opioids like fentanyl, naloxone should still be given for any suspected drug overdose or poisoning.
How might our teens encounter these fake pills?
While it might be difficult to imagine your teen would ever experiment with pills, it’s important to acknowledge the very real reasons why teens may encounter or seek out pills:
- The teen brain is experiencing every emotion very intensely as it grows and develops rapidly. Some teens may turn to pills to cope with stress, anxiety or depression.
- Teens might be feeling pressure to excel in school or sports, and some may believe that pills can help boost their academic or athletic performance.
- The teen brain is hard-wired to take risks. Some teens might experiment with pills to fulfill risk-seeking urges.
- Some teens may think: “It’s medicine, so it can’t hurt me, right?” This misunderstanding of the dangers of taking pills not prescribed to them might give the false impression that it’s safe to try, especially if they see their family or friends doing so.
If our kids are not warned, and given the support they need, they may think pills are the solution to their problems. The majority of teens and young adults who report misuse of prescription pills are buying or getting them from friends, family, and even acquaintances over Snapchat and other apps popular with teens. To teens, these are seemingly harmless transactions for a pill – maybe a “study drug” or “sleeping pill,” but they could lead – and have led to – unimaginably tragic consequences in our communities.
What Can We Do to Protect Our Kids?
Our goal at Parent Up is to support parents and caregivers in their efforts to keep kids from engaging in substance use. By taking steps to reduce pill misuse, we can reduce the likelihood that our teens would take a potentially fatal pill laced with fentanyl or xylazine in the future. We encourage parents and caregivers to use our 4Cs to prevent pill misuse in youth:
- CARE: Educate yourself about the harmful effects of pill misuse, especially for kids and teens. Check out our Prescription Drugs page to start! We break down the most commonly misused prescription drugs by teens, the risks, and the warning signs to look for. We also have free helpful tools and resources for you to download, print, and share.
- CONNECT: Connection is key to prevention! Kids who have stable, healthy relationships with adults are more likely to make safer decisions and live healthier lives. Learn more about simple ways to connect with your kids every day by watching this 14-minute TED Talk. Learn more about the amazing value of having regular family meals together by visiting our Meaningful Meals page.
- COMMUNICATE: Talk to your child early and often about medication safety and have specific conversations about the dangers of misusing pills. Emphasize to teens and kids that they should never share their prescription pills with anyone and to never take anyone else’s pills. Take a strong stance against using any substance, including pills, to deal with your problems.
- Let your child know you will help them if they are seeking relief from anxiety or depression. Discuss the steps to legally and safely obtain appropriate medications from a doctor, if needed. Assure your child that their mental well-being is a priority and that they have options for relief other than taking matters into their own hands.
- Practice what to say if they are offered something. These roleplays let your child know you support them and help give them confidence if a situation arises where they need to say “no.” You can also work with your teen to come up with a code word to text you if they feel like they need your help to get out of an unsafe situation.
- CAREFUL ATTENTION: You know your child and what is or isn’t typical for them. Be on alert for changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes. Take action if you see early warning signs of pill misuse. You can find these warning signs on our Prescription Drugs page.
- Keep track of which prescription medicines you have in your house and how many. Store prescriptions in a secure place only you know about. Don’t keep powerful prescription medicine in your bathroom medicine cabinet where just anyone can find it.
- When you have unused, unwanted, or expired prescriptions, don’t keep them around your home. Keeping these types of medication out of the house entirely will drastically limit the serious risks to kids and teens! Dispose of these medicines at your nearest local dropbox location or make a plan for safe home disposal.
Here are some other helpful resources too:
Learn how to Parent Up to help prevent any substance use in your kids.
Read here for more information on what we can do to help protect the teens in our life, an Insight from Parent Up.
For younger kids, read here for 5 ways teaching medicine safety early can save lives, an Insight from Parent Up.
Song for Charlie, a family-run nonprofit, has Real Talk videos to help start the conversation with your child.
Buying Drugs Online – What You Should Know & How to Protect Your Kids from Get Smart About Drugs, a DEA resource for parents, educators, and caregivers.