Fentanyl Related Deaths Are Surging in Children

Families Against Fentanyl, a nonprofit organization, suggests that fentanyl-related deaths are rapidly increasing among children under 14.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug used to treat severe pain in people with cancer or individuals recovering from surgery. Healthcare providers also use the drug for pain control in end-of-life care. However, the drug is also produced illegally, sold, and often combined with other illicit drugs.

Fentanyl and its variations, including acetyl fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, and carfentanil, are highly potent. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a mere 2 milligrams (mg) of fentanyl can kill a person depending on the individual’s past use history and body size. Moreover, 1 kilogram (kg) of fentanyl can potentially kill 500 people.

The agency also notes that 42% of pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 mg of the drug — a potentially lethal dose.

Current National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data indicates 106,699 drug-involved overdose deaths were reported in the U.S. in 2021. The data also shows that synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) were largely to blame for the deaths.

Moreover, according to Families Against Fentanyl (FAF), a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the drug, fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for people aged 18 to 45 in the U.S. However, that conclusion is still the subject of debate among experts.

The nonprofit also says that most people poisoned by fentanyl aren’t aware they’ve ingested the drug, as it’s often hidden in other substances like marijuana, ecstasy, or oxycontin. What’s more, unscrupulous individuals can also mix fentanyl into substances that appeal to children. This has sparked concerns about candy-colored fentanyl and warnings about fentanyl in Halloween candy.

Additionally, FAF indicates that fentanyl poisoning among young children is rapidly increasing. For example, between 2019 to 2021, the nonprofit says that deaths among children under 14 years have risen faster than fentanyl deaths in any other age group. During the same period, FAF says fentanyl-related deaths more than tripled among toddlers ages one to four and quadrupled among children five to 14.

The dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs and other substances driving the surge in children’s deaths lurk in social media, according to the parent-led organization Parents Together Action.

In a parent advisory statement, the organization says, "parents should know that drugs are sold on all major social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, TikTok, Discord, and Telegram, and that a fatal dose of fentanyl can contaminate any other drug or supplement, including products made to look like vitamins."

The growing fentanyl crisis also has many parents up in arms, especially those who have endured the tragic loss of a child or children due to fentanyl poisoning.

On February 28, Rebecca Kiessling, the mother of two sons, Caleb, 20, and Kyler, 18, — who died July 29, 2020, from fentanyl poisoning — testified at the Republican-led U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security about the fentanyl crisis.

According to one report, in her testimony, Kiessling urged lawmakers to take control of the fentanyl crisis, saying, "This is a war. Act like it. Do something."

What are government agencies doing about the fentanyl crisis?

According to the DEA, illicit fentanyl is primarily manufactured in foreign clandestine labs and smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico.

In February, Fox News reported that Border Patrol Agents seized more than 465 pounds of fentanyl at U.S. borders since October 2022 — enough to kill 100 million people.

According to a White House statement, "the U.S., foreign partners, and industries, [and] the U.S. Department of the Treasury will use sanctions to target the global fentanyl supply chain, particularly in Mexico, to disrupt the illicit production of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which continue to drive overdose deaths."

To combat the fentanyl crisis, FAF proposes designating fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. This designation would allow the U.S. government to cut off the drug’s supply chain without impacting prescription fentanyl availability.

What can parents do to keep children safe?

Parents Together Action says that parents should warn their children that "one pill can kill" and that any substance not purchased at a pharmacy could contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.

They, and the DEA, also suggest parents should limit social media use, especially in children younger than 13, who are easily influenced online. In addition, parents should ensure their kids know they can come to them for help in a drug-related emergency.

Finally, parents and caregivers should consider obtaining Naloxone, also known as Narcan. This medication can reverse the effects of opioids — including fentanyl — and is available without a prescription at most pharmacies.

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