The tragic overdose of 16-year-old Samuel Berman Chapman — son of TV host and therapist Laura Berman — made headlines earlier this year. The news contained two components that parents should know about. The drugs were laced with fentanyl, which likely caused the overdose, and they were purchased on Snapchat.
This raises a reality that few parents had considered: Kids are now buying drugs online, via social media.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and has prescription uses similar to morphine. When administered by doctors it usually appears in patch or lozenge form; however, illegal fentanyl is now being produced in powder form and added to a host of drugs.
“Some drug dealers are mixing fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA,” the official DrugAbuse.gov website reports. “This is because it takes very little to produce a high with fentanyl, making it a cheaper option. This is especially risky when people taking drugs don’t realize they might contain fentanyl as a cheap but dangerous additive.”
Unfortunately, there is no way to know if what you’re taking contains fentanyl, which makes it exceedingly dangerous for kids who obtain drugs from friends or drug dealers — whether in real life or on social media.
“A lot of drugs are being cut with fentanyl now,” Patrick A. Roland, LASAC & Expert at Help.org tells Parentology. “Cocaine is also being cut with it, as well as heroin and other drugs like OxyContin and Xanax. There is really no way to tell, so as dangerous as drugs are already, the risk of them being cut with fentanyl is like playing Russian Roulette with your life.”
How Kids Are Buying Drugs on Social Media
According to Roland, it’s a fairly easy thing to do.
“It makes sense that they are using online platforms to do this now because it’s the way they communicate, they are very savvy, and it’s easier to engage in sneaky behavior that can be unnoticed,” he says. “A teenager can send or receive a message asking for or being offered drugs and easily delete it. A parent doesn’t only need to concern themselves with who their kids hang out with, they should also know what apps they use and who they talk to on those apps.”
That said, there are some specific things that parents may be able to look for within their child’s online communication.
“Parents should be aware of the different code words or emojis their children might be using to obtain drugs. On the streets, fentanyl is called blues so they might use the blue heart or pill emoji in text/message communication. Meth is called Tina or clouds so the clouds emoji or anything to communicate not sleeping might be used,” Roland warns.
How Can You Help Your Kids Be Aware of the Danger?
Roland suggests that parents speak openly and honestly about drugs with their kids. Share information and help your children be informed about the new dangers that these synthetic drugs present.
“Fentanyl is probably the most addictive drug of our time and young kids/teenagers are being introduced to it and then become addicted to it with little effort,” Roland notes. “There is a much younger demographic of people coming into treatment centers (18-22), and it’s most often because of fentanyl, and it usually started in their teen years.”
Beyond that Roland suggests keeping Narcan, an opioid reversal nasal spray that is often used to stop an overdose, and to let your children know about it. In the event that they do take something with a hidden opioid, they will have an option that could potentially prevent a fatal overdose.
Most importantly, Roland suggests talking with your teens. “I think the most important thing parents can do for their teens is be open with them about drugs and not make them a source of fear. Have open communication with your teen, make sure they know you are there for them and you will listen; and if they are already addicted, don’t use scare tactics or abandon them as that will just exacerbate the addiction.”