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Protecting Your Teen from the Fentanyl Crisis

Picture of Mary Warren
Mary Warren

Therapeutic Consultant
and Parenting Coach

An Essential Parents Guide: Understanding the Fentanyl Crisis

I don’t want to scare you, but I want you to know this is happening, and it can happen to you. One of our greatest fears as parents is the thought of our children being exposed to harm. Over the last few months, I’ve worked with several families who nearly lost their teenage children to accidental fentanyl overdose.

These are “normal” families with good kids and professionals living in good neighborhoods. These conversations were disheartening, frustrating, and plain heart-breaking; because of them, I’m writing this blog. I believe that knowledge is power. Knowing and understanding what’s going on with fentanyl and our children gives parents the power to save their child’s life.

Have you heard of fentanyl? It’s in the news daily, and whether your child takes it willingly or accidentally, it is a threat, unlike anything we’ve seen before. The discourse about this drug is confusing; on the one hand, it’s becoming very popular with teens and young people because it induces feelings of euphoria.

On the other hand, it is a street drug, an ingredient illegal drug makers and dealers use to cut other highly addictive drugs. What makes fentanyl different from previous dangerous drugs? It is more potent. It is synthetic, lower cost, and very addictive. There’s high demand, and it is a significant money maker for dealers.

Like many of us, you probably remember hearing of the opioid crisis that gripped communities in the early nineties. That was nothing compared to this new threat we are now facing with fentanyl. Frankly, it is unlike anything we’ve seen before. This drug is one of the deadliest drugs ever made. It’s a drug dealer’s dream because people who take Fentanyl, even once, become addicted to its chemical effect.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

People who take Fentanyl, even just once, become addicted to its chemical effect. It’s easily accessible. It can even be ordered online and delivered to your home as if it were Chinese take-out. For these reasons, it is up to us as parents to familiarize ourselves with the dangers of fentanyl, how it’s distributed, and who’s most at risk of falling prey to this alluring temptation.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful, prescription-strength painkiller that doctors sometimes prescribe after surgery for pain. But like the opioids that came before it, Fentanyl is manufactured illegally in make-shift labs in the US and Mexico.

According to the National Institutes of Health, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. A single dose can be deadly. It is also addictive. Those who cook fentanyl often try to disguise it to look like candy or other popular drugs. 

fentanyl comes in many forms - photo from DEA
Fentanyl is available in many forms - Source: DEA

This drug blends easily with heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine to make those more potent and addictive. It is also made to look like pills such as Xanax, Adderall, Hydrocodone, Percocet, and other doctor-prescribed opioids to treat pain.

Fentanyl is available in liquid, powdered, nasal spray, and lollipops. Your teenager may not realize the level of risk they are exposed to when they think they are getting painkillers or Adderall.

According to the DEA, fentanyl can be snorted/sniffed, smoked, injected, and spiked onto blotter paper. Patches can be frozen and cut into pieces, then placed under the tongue or in the cheeks.

California’s  Calaveras County Public Health Department recently warned about rainbow fentanyl. 

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered. Fentanyl is everywhere. From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison.”

fentanyl crisis Protecting Your Teen from the Fentanyl Crisis
Rainbow fentanyl - Source: California Department of Public Health

What is Rainbow Fentanyl?

A potentially fatal drug found in pills and powders in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes.” The drug has been manufactured to resemble favorite candies like Nerds or SweeTARTS. And earlier this month, more than 1,000 rainbow fentanyl pills were seized in Ohio.

The government warned that “fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes — is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults.” 

Beware! All those warnings we have given our kids never to take an unfamiliar pill may now be moot. Fentanyl pills no longer look like pills. Now, they are decked out in pretty pastels and look like your favorite candy.


fentanyl crisis Protecting Your Teen from the Fentanyl Crisis
fentanyl crisis Protecting Your Teen from the Fentanyl Crisis
fentanyl crisis Protecting Your Teen from the Fentanyl Crisis

Fentanyl Statistics

Source: DEA

Fentanyl Statistics – Source: CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, DEA.
Fentanyl Statistics – Source: CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, DEA.

How Can You Fight a Fentanyl Crisis You Cannot See?

If neither you nor your child can tell the difference between a lethal dose of synthetic opioid and a harmless candy, how can you fight back? Education is the key.

Here is what you need to know about fentanyl:

  • Drug traffickers actively target the social media accounts of teenagers to advertise and sell fentanyl. 
  • If your child has a social media account or a smartphone, traffickers can find them and make contact. 
  • Complicated emoji codes sent to smartphones look harmless but have sinister meanings. 
  • Drug cartels make fentanyl into “lookalike pills,” resembling Adderall, Xanax, and Oxycontin.
  • Four out of every ten fentanyl pills contain a deadly drug dose. 


Having those difficult conversations with your kids are more important than ever, even if doing so causes anger or embarrassment. Show them pictures of what fentanyl looks like in all its forms. Please give them the statistics and help them tighten security on their social media accounts and smart devices.

Emphasize the dangers of taking fentanyl, even just once. And try to keep the lines of communication open with your teenager so they can come to you with questions when they are confused. Frequent discussions on teen drug safety are powerful weapons to fight the fentanyl crisis. Make sure you and your child have the knowledge needed to stay safe.


“He thought he was being safe. He took one fake Percocet and now he’s dead.”

Chart displaying common Emoji Codes used on Social Media by Kids to "buy drugs"
Common Emoji Codes used on Social Media by Kids

What Does Fentanyl Abuse Look Like?

If you suspect your teen may be using fentanyl, look for these signs.

  • Overly relaxed
  • Euphoric
  • Sedated
  • Confusion
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Shortness of breath with frequent yawns
  • Weight loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Change in friends, attitude, or interests!


Look at your child’s pupils to see if they are dilated or constricted. Please pay attention to changes in their behavior, such as suddenly isolating, seeming depressed, or wanting to sleep more than usual. Stay aware of what is happening with their grades and at school, so you’ll know if something drastically changes. And if you suspect your teen may be using fentanyl or another drug, such as Adderall or Xanax, get help immediately. 


What Does a Fentanyl Overdose Look Like, and What Can You Do?

Whether your child takes fentanyl accidentally or out of curiosity, fentanyl overdose is often fatal. So, as a parent, familiarize yourself with the symptoms. They include:

  • Pinpoint-sized pupils
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sounds of gurgling or choking
  • Weak breathing
  • Limp body
  • Respiratory failure


These are signs of an extreme emergency. Call 911 immediately and administer naloxone if you have it.

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is a life-saving medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, including fentanyl. It can quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped due to opioid misuse.

Available as a nasal spray, Narcan is easy to administer and can be obtained without a prescription, and free training on how to use it is available through the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse


A picture of Narcan Nasal Spray
Narcan Nasal Spray - Source: ADAPT PHARMA, INC.

Where to Find Help for Fentanyl Abuse

Your child’s pediatrician may be your first line of defense if you suspect your teen may be using drugs. Make an appointment right away.

Another resource to find help includes SAMHSA’s national helpline.

Fentanyl kills more young people in America than all other illegal drugs combined, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepine. If you suspect your teen is using Fentanyl, do not wait. Get them into a residential treatment program right away. The fentanyl crisis is real, and it is in our communities.

Taking Action: Empowering Steps to Protect Your Child from the Fentanyl Crisis

As parents, we are our children’s first and best defense against dangers like fentanyl. You can protect your child.

  1. Educate: Share the dangers of fentanyl and the details on this blog with your teenager. Remind them that no pill purchased on social media is safe!
  2. Communicate: You have said it before, but now it’s more important than ever to have an ongoing conversation. Make sure they know they can come to you and discuss questions or concerns without repercussions.
  3. Be vigilant: Monitor your child’s online activity and discuss how to manage unsolicited messages. Know what they are doing on social media and talk about online safety.
  4. Be ready: Make sure you have naloxone readily available in your home and know how to use it.


Remember, you are not alone in this fight. Let us work together as a community to keep our children safe. Together, we can make a difference.

Personal Stories: Fentanyl's Devastating Effects

“And so I walked up to her room, knocked on the door…she didn’t answer, opened the door, and I found her and her friend laying on the bed. Her friend was making this weird gurgling noise and I saw Sienna, who was just so pale. Her lips were already turning blue,” she recalled. “I immediately said, ‘Call 911, call 911.’ I jumped over her friend. I tried to do a couple of compressions on the bed, and it wasn’t working, so I picked her up, put her on the floor, and just started doing CPR.”

Medics rushed the kids to a hospital. Sienna’s friend survived, but Sienna did not.

Sienna was 17-year-old cheerleader 4/20/2006 – 2/26-2023, Plano, Texas

Noah awoke from his coma, he was tearful and apologetic. He thought only a few hours had passed; it had been four days. Janel and her husband called treatment centers, but none would take Noah without his consent, and he insisted that he didn’t have a problem. Then, the first week of school, sixteen days after Janel gave birth to another son, Noah overdosed at his girlfriend’s house. This time, he couldn’t be revived.

 Noah – On 8/21/2022, he died of Fentanyl poisoning he was 15 years old. He took a counterfeit Percocet pill.


“He was defrauded, and I don’t support self-medication. If he had survived, I would have said to him not to take any medication that is not prescribed to him. It’s heartbreaking to see young people lose their lives over such preventable mistakes.” Alexander’s mom

Alexander, a 14-year-old bought Oxycontin pills on Snapchat, he died from a single pill that had Fentanyl.

fentanyl crisis Protecting Your Teen from the Fentanyl Crisis

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