Teen drug use has dropped, but fentanyl overdoses are rising

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He graduated from high school last week (phew!) and now my firstborn is preparing for college.

Dorm size sheets. Shower bag. The perfect pillow.

“Make sure he has fentanyl test strips,” not one, but two friends told me. “In case.”

If we can overcome the fear of another mass shooter unleashing its untreated fury on a class of children, there is a far more effective and common killer preying on young Americans – fentanyl.

And we’re not just talking about the type found in heroin and cocaine. Today’s lethal doses of fentanyl are tucked away in the staples of the college drug scene, stuff even square kids can soak up – weed and pills (even painkillers and study pills).

“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” Anne Milgram, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s top drug enforcement official, said in an April letter from the agency. “Drug dealers promote addiction and increase their profits by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl until it is too late.

This was sent after massive overdoses occurred in at least seven US cities this spring. There were at least 58 overdoses and 29 deaths — including 10 in DC — when bad batches were also dropped in neighborhoods in Florida, Texas, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska.

Ten opioid overdoses in a few hours

Too many marketers believe that adding a pinch of fentanyl to their schwag weed could make their product more addictive, and therefore more popular. The problem with that, of course, is that your average slinger isn’t a scientist. And the DEA says a dose of fentanyl that weighs just two milligrams – as much as a mosquito – is enough to kill.

Try trusting the angle plug known as Mad Hatter to get those measurements correct.

The numbers for the teenage population are frightening. There were 518 overdoses among children aged 14 to 18 in 2010, a level that has remained fairly stable for a decade. It rose to 945 in 2020 and 1,146 last year, an increase of more than 120% from 2010, according to a research letter published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This comes as drug use among teens has actually declined slightly. It’s just a deadlier game now.

And so we have fentanyl test strips, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are the best way to stay safe — unless abstinence.

This sends us straight into the dark and moral quagmire. By putting test strips in his college gift basket, are we just giving the drugs a big green light?

This is the world of free condoms and needle exchange programs. If you engage in risky behavior, at least be as careful about it as possible. A leap of faith that makes everyone uneasy, even as the world around us embraces harm reduction and policy makers increasingly see drug use as a public health issue.

Slowly, jurisdictions are declassifying test strips as “drug paraphernalia” so more people are comfortable giving and having them.

Because dropping the naive assumption that “MY kids wouldn’t do that” (believe me, they’ve been in my house and in my car and I’ve read their texts with my kids – they do) is especially important when it comes to fentanyl.

It appears in jars and fake pills sold on Snapchat. It’s in cities and suburbs, on campuses and in clubs.

This is how 21-year-old Abdallah Amer Ali sold a deadly pill to a 16-year-old in Harrisonburg, Virginia, according to the Justice Department.

“With a rampant increase in overdose deaths across the country, we often focus on the numbers, but today’s announcement is an important reminder that these numbers are much more than that – they are our children, our loved ones and our friends,” Special Agent in Charge Jarod Forget said, in Ali’s guilty plea announcement on Monday.

“Counterfeit fentanyl pills are a huge problem, affecting all cultures, races and ages in our local communities,” Forget said. “It only takes one pill to kill.”

In April, two Prince William County teenagers – aged 14 and 15 – died after taking fake Percocets marketed as Perc30 ​​and contaminated with fentanyl, police say.

In February, a 16-year-old Connecticut high school student overdosed on marijuana containing traces of fentanyl. Police departments across the United States issued warnings this year about fentanyl in local weed supplies.

And in January, 16-year-old Makayla Cherie Cox, a popular cheerleader and gymnast at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, died after taking a blue pill containing a trace of fentanyl.

Last month, two Ohio State University students died after taking counterfeit Adderall pills containing fentanyl just at the critical time of the final.

It’s the one that scares me the most. When he was in college, my son was prescribed Adderall by a doctor who was treating him for ADHD. He hated how it made him feel, and we stopped him before he finished the bottle. But in those few weeks, his focused, intense self got perfect marks and played fiercely on the ice when playing defense.

We will talk about drugs and we will encourage abstinence. But my husband and I went to college; we are not ignorant. Our kids are a generation grossly missed by adults who grew up unafraid that their classrooms, grocery stores, concerts, or movie theaters would become slaughterhouses and the joint that goes around the college party unmixed to a synthetic substance that could kill them.

So I’m going to buy the test strips and put them away with a new pack of his favorite socks, in the hope that his generation will do better for the future than ours for his.

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