Talking with your kids about fentanyl
Having conversations with your kids about the harms of fentanyl is extremely important.
Anyone who uses drugs can be at risk of an overdose, including those who:
- Are struggling with problematic substance use
- Use drugs occasionally in a recreational context
- Are trying an illegal drug for the first time
- Are not strictly following their health care professionals’ instructions
Begin conversations about medication safety with kids early and tailor them to the child’s age.
Help young children understand that medicines can be very dangerous and should only be taken by the person they are prescribed to – and keep all prescription and over the counter medications locked away and well out of their reach.
When talking to teens about fentanyl and opioids discuss the differences between prescription grade fentanyl and illegal fentanyl.
Because of the risks of overdose and substance use disorder, opioid medications are rarely prescribed to adolescents. However, they may be prescribed as pain management for a short time to treat severe pain resulting from cancer, surgery or serious sports injuries, and if so, should only be taken as directed by the doctor.
If there is anyone in your home who needs to use any prescription grade fentanyl (or any other opioid) to manage pain, ensure that the medication is stored safely away under lock and key, and disposed of securely at the pharmacy.
Explain to teens that illegal fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are pervasive in street drugs like oxy, cocaine, MDMA, heroin and methamphetamine – and because fentanyl has no taste, colour or smell, the drug cannot be detected – and can be extremely dangerous.
If your teen or young adult child is using opioids problematically, or has an opioid use disorder, it’s important to focus on reducing harmful consequences.
Ensure their safety first and have a safety plan that includes Naloxone.
Discussing a safety plan with your teen as a precautionary measure can help reduce the chances of accidental overdose, for example, only consuming drugs at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.
Be certain that your teen or young adult child understands that the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects anyone who seeks help for someone experiencing an overdose. It applies to anyone seeking emergency support during an overdose, including the person experiencing an overdose.
Ensure you have access to Naloxone as an additional safety precaution. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that reverses an overdose caused by fentanyl and other opioids.
DFK’s Let Talk Opioids booklet can help you understand more about opioids, including fentanyl and the risks of using them without a prescription, as well as suggestions on how you can prevent their non-medical opioid use by kids.
Let’s drop the stigma
Check your tone when you talk about substance use – do you sound judgmental?
Using condescending or disparaging language can be counterproductive, and can have an extremely negative impact on people who use opioids or other substances, people with substance use disorders, people who are in recovery, as well as their families. This negative stigma often leads people to use drugs on their own, which can, in turn, lead to accidentally overdosing and dying alone.
Opening up the conversation about stigma and its negative effects on people will engage all of us to think about how we treat others who may be suffering from some form of problematic substance use and encourage people to get the help they need.
Ready to begin the conversation? Here are a few tips:
Use open-ended questions – They can help start a dialogue and avoid a lecture. For example; “What do you think motivates kids to take prescription pills recreationally?”
Use Active Listening – Be curious as to what your teen or young adult has to say about substance use. “What have you heard about using cough syrup to get high?” Reflect back on what you hear – Let your child know you heard what was said. For example: “It seems like you’re concerned that some kids you know are taking pain pills.” Reflections do not mean that you necessarily agree, but that you understand what your child is trying to convey.
Choose a good time and place – Look for opportunities to talk when both you and your child are most receptive. Occasions when you are doing something together, like taking a walk, going for a drive, or working on chores are often good times for conversations.
Give them the information – Explain how taking anyone else’s medications can be dangerous. Ask your child if they are aware of the consequences of experimenting with opioids, and explain the risks to them. Talk about the effects drug use can have on their mental and physical health.
Talk about their future plans – Encourage your child to think about what they want for their future, and help them understand the benefits of making healthy choices.
Offer empathy and support – Let your child know you understand the teen years can be tough. Acknowledge that everyone struggles sometimes, and it may be tempting to use substances as a way to cope with problems. Talk about the importance of finding healthy coping strategies and offer to explore those alternatives together.
Above all, always come from a place of love – Remind your children that you are always there to guide and support them and that it’s important to you that they are healthy, happy, and making safe choices for themselves.