Per MCPS: Hundreds packed the cafeteria at Clarksburg High School on Saturday Jan. 28 to learn about the dangers of illegally made fentanyl and resources to help our youth. Panelists including MCPS School System Medical Officer Dr. Patricia Kapunan, members of the Montgomery County Police Department, Department of Health and Human Services and more shared important information for families on the dangers and prevalence of fentanyl, prevention tools, and protective factors for students and resources for treatment when needed.
Hundreds packed the cafeteria at Clarksburg High School on Saturday Jan. 28 to learn about the dangers of illegally made fentanyl and resources to help our youth. Panelists including MCPS School System Medical Officer Dr. Patricia Kapunan, members of the Montgomery County Police Department, Department of Health and Human Services and more shared important information for families on the dangers and prevalence of fentanyl, prevention tools, and protective factors for students and resources for treatment when needed.
What is illicit fentanyl? Fentanyl is a prescription medication for pain that is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. The type of fentanyl driving overdose deaths is illegally made and sold in the form of powder, pills, liquid, or nasal sprays. Other drug products like marijuana, cocaine, heroin or illegally sold pills thought to be prescription medicine may be laced with illicit fentanyl, without the knowledge of the user.
Why are youth taking drugs, such as fentanyl and how are they getting them? Teenagers and even younger children may use illicit substances for multiple reasons. Experimentation or peer pressure may prompt a single episode of use that leads to further problems. Youth struggling with mental health symptoms, pain, or already using other drugs may be more likely to experiment or have problems related to substance use. With fentanyl, it is important to know that individuals may not even know they are taking it, as it is often incorporated into other substances. Drug traffickers may use fentanyl to increase the potency of their products. They also use social media to promote and sell drugs, making them more available to youth from peers or directly from online sources or through social media.
Why is illicit fentanyl so dangerous? Because fentanyl is such a highly powerful opioid, very small amounts can lead to a potentially fatal overdose from even one use, and the person may not even know that the drug taken contained illicit fentanyl. The potency of fentanyl also means that individuals seeking temporary effects for relaxation, pain relief, or pleasure may find themselves quickly addicted. Once addicted, they may need to use as frequently as every 2-3 hours to avoid very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including extreme nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, sweating or chills.
What can adults do to help? Parents and other caregivers can educate themselves and foster conversations with children about the dangers of drug use, specifically fentanyl and how to avoid use, family expectations around use, and the availability of help and support. Recognizing potential signs of substance use, trauma, and mental health symptoms will help youth and families access support earlier and help avoid dangerous or fatal outcomes.
Naloxone (Narcan) is an emergency medication given by nasal spray that can work instantly to reverse opioid overdose. It is important to know that the effects of naloxone are temporary and when used to treat an overdose, individuals will still need emergency medical attention (911). The effectiveness also depends on the potency of the drug and dose taken, so higher doses of naloxone may be required for powerful opioids like illicit fentanyl. Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law protects individuals from prosecution from certain crimes, who are providing assistance to another person experiencing a medical emergency related to alcohol or other drugs.
As part of ensuring medication safety in their homes, families should strongly consider keeping naloxone available, especially if they store prescription opioids or have concern that youth may be at risk for dangerous opioid use. Montgomery County residents can access naloxone, and training on how to use it, for free without an individual prescription. If you would like training on naloxone administration you can register at this link. To access free naloxone, Montgomery County residents can call DHHS Harm Reduction Services at 240-777-1836.