We are dealing with a paradox right now – data shows that fewer young people are using drugs now than in years past, but our kids are more at risk of dying from drug overdoses than ever before. Why is this? Because fentanyl and drugs laced with fentanyl are both extremely potent and increasingly available.
Talking about substance use can feel overwhelming, but having open, honest conversations with young people about the risks and consequences of substance use is one of the most important things you can do to help keep them healthy and safe. Talk early and often with your kids about a variety of issues. If you’ve created a relationship built on trust and regular conversation, then ‘big’ topics won’t seem so much like ‘hard topics’ when they come up.
Take some time to think about your own relationship to substances, and whether your family has a history of addiction. If you drink alcohol in front of your child, that’s an opportunity to explain the differences between adult and adolescent brains, and why it is so important for them to delay substance use until their brain is fully developed in their twenties.
This isn’t a one-time talk to have with your kids, it’s an ongoing dialogue that will change over time as your child gets older and the landscape of illegal drugs in our community changes. Talking about substance use does not increase usage – in fact, the opposite is true.
The best way to keep teens safe is to give them scientific facts and life-saving information. Facts like:
- The risk is real: Any drug that doesn’t come from a doctor or pharmacist could contain lethal amounts of fentanyl. That means black market pills that claim to be Adderall, Ritalin, OxyContin, or Valium may have enough Fentanyl to kill you.
- It is undetectable without special equipment: Fentanyl is tasteless, odorless, and too small to see with your eyes. An amount of Fentanyl the size of two grains of salt is enough to cause a deadly overdose.
- Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose. Let teens know that naloxone is legal for ALL ages without an ID. Learn how to get Naloxone here.
- Know the signs of an overdose and what to do as a bystander.
Simply saying ‘Don’t do drugs’ and ‘Because I said so’ just doesn’t work. Those most at risk may just tune the warning out if they feel judged. You have to combine parental expectations with science-based facts.
What you can do
You can use these strategies to help kids navigate difficult situations involving drugs and alcohol. (Use the drop-down arrows to read more):
*** This content was adapted from the Addiction Policy Forum’s “12 Things Parents Can Do to Prevent Teen Opioid Use and Addiction.”