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What parents should know about synthetic drugs

Prescription pills on a table

My nephew, Cooper, was a fun, adventurous, outgoing kid that everyone loved to be around. He was kind-hearted, strong-willed and hard-headed. He was drawn to extreme sports like snowboarding, rock climbing, motorcycles and cliff jumping. He was a risk-taker…absolutely fearless. Cooper also thought he was invincible.  

In August 2021, Cooper took half of a pill he thought was a prescription Percocet. He died that Sunday afternoon without the opportunity to learn from his mistake. His toxicology report later revealed there was no Percocet in his system - only fentanyl. Cooper’s parents and family, many of whom work in the medical field, were unaware of the dangers of illicit fentanyl. We knew immediately we had to warn others about this deadly epidemic that turned our lives upside down 

The mission of The Cooper Davis Memorial Foundation aka, Keepin’ Clean for Coop, works to educate families and raise awareness on the danger of illicit fentanyl. Awareness is the No. 1 defense, and it is going to take a community effort to keep our kids safe.    

What do we know about fentanyl? 

  • Every 8 minutes, one American life is lost to fentanyl. 

  • In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized enough fentanyl to kill every American and this only accounts for 20% of what comes across the border. 

  • Fentanyl-related deaths rose to 21.6 per 100,000 people in 2021, an increase from 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2016. Deaths also rose by 55% in 2019-2020, and 24.1% in 2020-2021.  

  • According to the CDC, fentanyl is now the No. 1 cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45, surpassing suicide, COVID-19 and car accident-related deaths. 

These are just a few staggering statistics that do not seem to be getting the attention they deserve. The influx of illicit fentanyl into our country is devastating families. My family knows this devastation all too well.  

What is fentanyl? 

Before we even start the conversation about fentanyl, it is important to understand what fentanyl is. Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid that when used as intended, is a vital medication in the hospital setting. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical grade fentanyl is a legitimate medication developed using advanced technology in regulated labs, maintained with tight quality control and administered by professionals as prescribed. Because fentanyl is synthetic, meaning man-made, illicit fentanyl is being produced in massive quantities with no quality control or expertise. Pills made with illicit fentanyl are randomly dosed and often deadly. In 2022, the DEA found that 6 of every 10 fake pills seized contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. 

The chocolate chip cookie effect. 

This is a great analogy of why these pills are so dangerous! 

We’ve probably all made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You make the batter, then mix in the chocolate chips. As you are placing the cookie dough on a pan to bake, you see that some cookies have more chocolate chips than others. As they bake and flatten out, it becomes even more obvious. You can see, smell and taste the chocolate chips.  

Similarly, a drug dealer makes a batter and then mixes in the illicit fentanyl. Unfortunately, when the fentanyl is mixed in, it’s not obvious. It is essentially colorless, odorless and tasteless. As a powder, it also clumps together. This mixture is then pressed into pills. 

So, for example, one pill in the batch may contain no fentanyl, whereas another pill could contain a lethal amount. But because you can't see the fentanyl in the pill, there is no way of knowing which pill - or even half a pill - will be deadly.  

Fentanyl is causing more drug-related death than all other drugs combined. 

Teens, and even tweens, are the most impacted by illicit fentanyl. In 2021, fentanyl was responsible for 77% of drug-induced deaths for ages 14-18. These deaths primarily involve counterfeit pills, obtained through social media apps, online or at parties. These kids are not accidentally overdosing, they are being poisoned. They are not taking an excessive amount of a drug they intended to take, but rather getting the tiniest amount of a drug they did not know was in that pill. They are being deceived to death. 

Drug traffickers harness social media because it is accessible and anonymous - the perfect avenue for selling counterfeit pills. In todays tech world, drugs are just a few clicks away, often with free delivery to your front door. Counterfeit pills are identical to and being marketed as legitimate prescription pills like Xanax, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall and more. Self-medicating is very common for teens these days. Tragically, it is often experimenting teens or those that are self-medicating to ease some anxiety or stress who are being deceived to death with these counterfeit pills. They don’t get the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  

In August 2022, the DEA sent a warning of brightly colored fentanyl being used to target young Americans. Dubbed rainbow fentanyl,” this is a new tactic where fentanyl is made to look like candy to target children and young people. 

rainbow fentanyl example

Our family has chosen to honor Cooper by establishing Keepin’ Clean for Coop. We want Cooper’s story to serve as a cautionary tale to all who hear it. Our goal is to prevent another family from having to endure the pain of losing a loved one through education and awareness about the dangers of illicit fentanyl and fake pills. We encourage you to talk to your children and help them understand the dangers and consequences of drug use.  

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APRN Coordinator