Families Need to Understand the Risks of Fentanyl for Children

by California State PTA Health and Community Concerns Commission

As a parent, guardian or family member, you likely take steps to make sure your children take medications safely and under your watchful eye. That includes carefully following dosing instructions for prescribed medications, locking up all medicines, and talking to your children about the dangers of illegal drugs and foodstuffs from unknown sources.

But is fentanyl on your list of concerns? Several expert sources indicate that parents and families need to know more about the potential risks this powerful opioid holds for children and the extra measures needed to keep them safe. At the upcoming California State PTA Convention in Sacramento, you can learn more about this topic at the workshop entitled “Fentanyl Discussion Panel,” scheduled for April 21 at 10 a.m.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid often used to manage severe pain. While it can be an effective pain reliever when prescribed, it poses a significant risk of addiction and overdose, according to a 2021 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse .  Unfortunately, children are not immune to these risks and may be exposed to fentanyl in various ways.

One way that children might be exposed to fentanyl is through legitimate prescriptions. While doctors may prescribe fentanyl to manage severe pain, parents and families must follow the dosing instructions carefully and store the medication safely out of reach of children.

Another way that children may be exposed to fentanyl is through illegal drugs. Fentanyl is often added to other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, to increase their potency. According to information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), these illicit drug combinations may be misrepresented altogether as other painkillers such as Vicodin or oxycodone. The DEA cautions that drugs from unknown sources are particularly dangerous because it can be impossible to know whether a drug has been laced with fentanyl, and even small amounts can be lethal.

In recent years,  the DEA has also received reports of fentanyl being found in counterfeit pills that are made to look like prescription medications. These pills are sold illegally and may be brightly colored, disguised as candy or other treats, the DEA warns. That makes them particularly attractive and dangerous to children. Children can also be exposed to fentanyl through tainted foods.

Parents and families must take steps to protect children from fentanyl exposure. The convention workshop will provide PTA leaders with information you can share in your community. More information is available on the convention page of the California State PTA website.