You may not have seen it, but it's already here. Fentanyl is present and impacting communities across Arizona. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescribed to reduce extreme pain and is 100 times stronger than morphine. All types of opioids are addictive and carry a risk of overdose. However, due to its potency, fentanyl has a much higher risk of overdose and death than other opioids.
Illegal fentanyl, made in labs, is used to produce counterfeit pills that look identical to prescription medication. There is no way of knowing how much fentanyl is in each of these counterfeit pills, making all counterfeit pills extremely dangerous as just a tiny amount of fentanyl can be lethal. In Arizona, 42% of all overdoses involve fentanyl, and over the last two years, there has been an increase of 1610% in counterfeit pill seizures. Out of all the pills tested in the DEA laboratory, 26% contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Unfortunately, teens have become the target of these pills. Drug trafficking organizations create these pills in the shapes, colors, and sizes of those that appeal to teens and use social media to distribute them. As a result, teens may think they're getting a legitimate prescription medication such as Oxycodone, Adderall, or Xanax pills but instead are buying counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Like many things today, drug deals are no longer done on the streets and have switched to an online platform. While teens may use all forms of social media to purchase these pills, Snapchat is the platform that gets used the most as it provides anonymity, disappearing content, and doesn't allow third-party monitoring. For example, drug dealers can post anonymous stories with their "menu" and receive "orders" directly on the app, all of which will disappear, making it hard to track. In January of this year, Snapchat had 108 million users in the U.S, with 15 to 25-year-olds making up 48% of all users.
Teens have different reasons for using prescription pills. They may be using them out of curiosity, as a coping mechanism, because they believe it will help them with their studies, or they may have become dependent on an actual prescription. However, the fact remains that teens are misusing and becoming addicted to prescription pills. In many cases where a teen overdosed, more than one person is present, as teens may use these pills at parties or gatherings with friends. Teens must know the signs of an overdose and call 911 for help if they see or hear of someone taking a counterfeit prescription pill. Arizona's Good Samaritan Law protects those who call 911 to report an overdose, and they will not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted.
It's essential as kids head back to school that we talk to them about the risks of drug use and why they should never take a pill that hasn't been prescribed to them by their doctor. It's also just as important that parents develop a plan for their kid's social media use and help them develop healthy coping mechanisms.
If you're concerned about someone's opioid or fentanyl use, call the Arizona Opioid Assistance Referral line at 1-888-688-4222 for information about treatment and counseling options. Visit https://naloxoneaz.com/save-a-life/ to find a Naloxone community distribution site near you.