Dewan: Raising fentanyl awareness can save lives
A small dose of fentanyl, such as the two milligrams pictured here, is enough to kill a person. Image courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    In an effort to raise awareness and prevent fentanyl deaths, on May 10 communities across the country came together for National Fentanyl Awareness Day. Last year, overall drug overdose deaths among all ages increased to more than 100,000.

    An important goal of the campaign is to ensure communities know about fentanyl and the dangers of illegally made counterfeit pills and drugs laced with fentanyl.

    Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is approved for prescription use in the U.S. to treat severe pain. While prescription fentanyl is dangerous, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose, death and injury in America are associated with illegally made and distributed fentanyl. Fentanyl is being mixed with other highly addictive and dangerous drugs in the illegal drug market.

    Fentanyl is tasteless, odorless, and too small to see. An amount about the size of two grains of salt can cause an overdose. It is so potent that even a single encounter with fentanyl can be deadly.

    Tragically, youth have died of fentanyl poisoning locally and across the United States.

    According to a study released in April, the overdose and poisoning death rate among U.S. adolescents nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020 and increases continued into 2021.

    A main reason for this alarming increase in overdose deaths among youth appears to be the supply of increasingly deadly drugs laced with illegally made fentanyl. Teens believe that prescription drugs are safe. Since opioids are available by prescription, many children and teens may not fully understand their danger and also do not know that fentanyl is being added to many street drugs.

    Illicit drugs are being made to mimic prescription drugs. Youth find illegal fentanyl and other pills through online sources and can have them delivered to their homes. Youth and others may believe that the opioid, Adderall or Xanax pills they are getting are prescription medications that have been diverted from the legal supply. In actuality, it is now significantly more likely those pills are counterfeit tablets containing fentanyl or similar synthetic opioids.

    Substances are laced with fentanyl long before they reach the friends, dealers and friends-of-friends youth trust to supply them. Fentanyl can be anywhere. While one pill might not be deadly, another one could be.

    Experts urge parents to be aware of these dangers and to talk with youth about their health. They also recommend parents:

    • Set clear expectations about drug and alcohol use, including real consequences for not following family rules.
    • Help youth deal with peer pressure to use drugs.
    • Get to know youth’s friends and their parents.
    • Monitor youth’s whereabouts and supervise their activities.
    • Carefully monitor medication use, if youth are taking medications.
    • Avoid leaving unused prescription medications in accessible places in the home.
    • Talk to youth often about their activities, interests, friends and well-being.
    • Avoid ignoring signs that youth’s behavior may be changing in negative ways.


    To learn more about the dangers of fentanyl, how to recognize signs of overdose and what to do in the event of an overdose, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet at

    Information, resources, and assistance with mental health or substance abuse, can be found at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at The SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service, or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

    San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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