Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that can cause harm to those misusing or addicted to it. When teenagers and young adults abuse the drug, the consequences are particularly devastating. Fentanyl addiction among young people is a serious and growing concern. Awareness and early treatment are critical for a young person’s health and well-being.
Most Common Drugs Involved in Overdoses
The synthetic opioid fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug can be prescribed legally as a treatment for pain, but even then has significant potential for abuse and addiction. Fentanyl is also sold illegally and sometimes used to “cut” other drugs such as heroin.
Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the US. In 2017, over 59% of all deaths related to opioids involved fentanyl. This was an increase from 14.3% in 2010.
The type of fentanyl most often associated with overdoses in made illegally in labs. It is then sold as a powder, made into pills that look like other prescription medications, dropped onto blotter paper, or put in eye droppers and nasal sprays.
Fentanyl can also be mixed with other drugs, including cocaine and heroin, as it is cheaper to produce. When young people take these drugs, it is especially dangerous as they might be taking stronger opioids than their bodies can handle, and they are then more likely to overdose.
The misuseof prescription drugs such as fentanyl is highest among young adults from age 18 to 25, with 14.4% reporting that they used prescription medications for nonmedical use. Among youth from age 12 to 17, 4.9% reported using prescriptions nonmedically. Among 12th graders, prescription medications used nonmedically, including the stimulant Adderall and the pain reliever Vicodin, are among the most commonly used drugs, after alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco.
Overdose Deaths Increasing in California
Fentanyl addiction among young people is increasing in California, along with the number of overdose deaths. The state has seen an increase, especially, in the number of teenagers and young adults who take counterfeit pills that contain the highly potent fentanyl.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp emphasizes that “The amount of fentanyl that it takes to overdose on is like two grains of salt.” Young people are often unaware that the pills they are buying are laced with the drug. Smittcamp further explains that “They are signing up for Xanax and they are getting fentanyl. They are signing up for oxycontin and they are getting fentanyl.”
The DA speculates that the problem has increased from 2019 to 2020 because of the pandemic. She adds, “It’s a difficult time. Kids are struggling and they turn sometimes to drug use in order to overcome some of these feelings they have.”
If you suspect that a teenager or young adult in your life may be addicted to fentanyl, it’s important to watch for the signs and get help for that individual as soon as possible. Sometimes the signs are very subtle and may be attributed to typical erratic teenage behavior.
Dr. Bonnie Milas, professor of Clinical Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that she missed the signs in her own sons even though she works with fentanyl every day. Although the typical warning signs are a loss of friends, a decline in appearance, and falling grades, Dr. Milas says her sons didn’t display any of these symptoms.
She advises parents to watch for the subtle signs that might gradually increase to the point that the fentanyl addiction has affected many areas of the young person’s life. There may be pills in a pocket wrapped in foil or dropped in the bathroom. The young person may develop an increasing preoccupation with money, and you may realize that some of your cash is missing. In fact, you may find that the individual is also missing for long periods of time and not reachable by cell phone.
Pay attention to whether your son or daughter is sleeping a lot. They could be experiencing a symptom known as “dipping out,” particularly if they are using opioids intravenously. They might fall asleep at the dinner table, falling into their plate while taking deep, noisy breaths.
Dr. Milas says that bathroom habits can also be a sign of fentanyl addiction among young people. Opioids cause constipation and, if taken intravenously, can also cause urinary retention. The individual may actually fall unconscious on the toilet. It’s important to also notice paraphernalia such as waxed paper envelopes or syringes.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction Among Young People
It is critical to get help as soon as possible for the teenager or young adult addicted to fentanyl and other opioids. Drug abuse can be especially damaging to their still-developing minds and bodies. More importantly, overdose deaths are increasing in youth and that is largely attributed to the misuse of opioids.
A specific young adult track, such as the one offered by Hope by the Sea, can address the unique needs of young people so they can transition successfully from their drug dependency and get their life back on track.
Help for Addiction
At Hope by the Sea, a southern California addiction treatment center, we focus on helping your loved one begin their journey of recovery from drug abuse. We specialize in treating each person as a whole individual, to embrace recovery with as much support and momentum as possible.
Our team continues to follow federal, state, and local public health guidelines regarding COVID-19 to ensure our clients’ safety. Please contact us today to learn more about our programs and services. Hope Starts Here!