Department of Family Services

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
703-324-7500 TTY 711
12011 Government Center Parkway, Pennino Building
Fairfax, VA 22035
Michael A. Becketts

What Parents and Caregivers Need to Know About Fentanyl

(Posted 2023 November)

soccer fieldOverdoses can happen in unexpected situations – a social gathering, a school event, with a friend or family member, or other community event. Sadly, drug overdoses are a leading cause of unintentional death among children in the United States according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The major force behind many overdoses is prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs, particularly fentanyl. Fentanyl is the primary opioid responsible for fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the Fairfax Health District. In 2022, 86 of 88 fatal opioid overdoses (98%) involved fentanyl.  

You may not know that someone is at risk of overdose or at risk of exposing you and your loved ones to fentanyl or other opioids. Stigma prevents many who use drugs from telling others. This hidden danger is impacting families across Fairfax County as opioid overdoses increase each year. If someone in your life or household is using drugs, your children could be in danger of accidentally ingesting the substance. Even the powdery residue left on surfaces can be harmful if it is ingested. Being mindful of substances in your household could save a child's life.

Information and awareness are the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from unintentional overdose.

Learn the Facts

  • pills in various colorsPills that look “normal” can still have deadly fentanyl in them. It’s undetectable by sight, smell, or taste. 
  • Fentanyl is cheap, potent, and profitable, so dealers use it to make fake pills.
  • Illegally made fentanyl is the primary driver of the recent increase in all U.S. overdose deaths. Fentanyl-involved deaths are fastest growing among 14-23 year olds.
  • It is often sold by unlicensed vendors online, on social media, and laced in recreational substances on the street.
  • Assume any pills sold online, on social media, on the streets, or by someone you don’t know are laced with fentanyl, including Oxy, Percocet, and Xanax. Only take pills prescribed by your doctor from a licensed pharmacy.

faux fentanyl fatal doseFentanyl is deadly even in small doses. It can slow the body's heart and breathing rate to the point of stopping completely. Be alert to the signs of an overdose:  

  • Face is pale or clammy
  • Breathing is infrequent or has stopped 
  • Deep snoring or gurgling (death rattle)
  • Unresponsive to any stimuli
  • Slow or no heart rate and/or pulse
  • Bluish purple, or ashen skin color
  • Fingernails turn blue or blue-black.

Our Police Department has found that numerous youth overdoses have involved burnt tin foil which is often used to facilitate the inhalation of the pills (other Northern Virginia jurisdictions are also observing this). 

If you suspect someone has overdosed, call or text 9-1-1 if the situation is immediately life-threatening. Our Fire and Rescue personnel carry medication that can prevent death from an opioid overdose.

clock with mom and daughter in background talkingChildren and teenagers are vulnerable to opioid overdoses. Fentanyl-involved deaths are fastest growing among 14–23-year-olds. Today, research shows that opioids are the most common substance contributing to fatal poisonings among children age 5 and under.

These strategies can help parents and caregivers prevent opioid misuse and overdoses:

  1. Start talking about medication safety early by advising young children not to take any pills without asking you first.
  2. Safely store and dispose of unwanted medications to prevent opioid misuse from ever starting.
  3. Only take pills prescribed by your doctor from a licensed pharmacy. Never buy pills from social media, online, on the street, or from unlicensed pharmacies.
  4. Look out for suspicious packages and credit card charges.
  5. Periodically check your teen’s smartphone for suspicious messages. To learn about emoji codes used on social media, visit Emoji Drug Code Decoded.
  6. Learn to spot opioids that are hidden in plain sight.
  7. Be mindful of illicit substances in your home and around your children and loved ones. If someone in your life or household is using drugs, your children could be in danger of accidentally finding and ingesting the substance. Even the powdery residue left on surfaces can be harmful if ingested.
  8. Have a short, judgment-free talk about stress, mental health, peer pressure, and substance use. 
  9. If someone you know is struggling with opioids, support them in getting help.
  10. Take a virtual REVIVE! training to learn what to do in an overdose situation, how to administer naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray to reverse an opioid overdose, and what to do afterward. Each attendee is eligible to receive naloxone at no cost. An educational training video is also available to learn about opioids, naloxone, and what to do if someone overdoses. 
  11. Always call 9-1-1 if you believe someone is experiencing an overdose, even if you give them naloxone.

It’s no exaggeration that the drug landscape is dramatically different from when you grew up, or even from just a few years ago. All parents and caregivers need to be educated on current drug threats to be able to recognize warning signs, have informed talks with their kids, and be prepared for any situation. 

The Parenting Education Programs is now enrolling for upcoming classes. Join us for more information about positive and effective ways parents can interact with and support their children at every age and stage of development. We would love to hear from you. If you need support or have questions about parenting topics contact our Parent Support Line at 703-324-7720 or email us.

This posting is part of the Department of Family Services' Community Corner where you’ll find timely information about upcoming events, parenting and wellness tips, programs and services, and more! Share these helpful posts with your friends and family. Don't miss out on future postings! Sign up today!

For media inquiries, contact Department of Family Services' Public Information Officer Amy Carlini by email, office phone 703-324-7758 or mobile phone 571-355-6672.

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