EDEN LAL WAS 14 when she tried marijuana. Before long, the Calgary-based teen was using it every day to escape her tumultuous life. Her father was convicted of molesting her older sister and her mother struggled through poverty and alcoholism while trying to raise four kids. It wasn’t long before the high from marijuana wasn’t strong enough to mask Lal’s pain, so she turned to more powerful drugs including fentanyl, an opioid that’s killed 665 Canadians between 2009 and 2014, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
During her worst moments of drug addiction, Lal would disappear from home for days, sleeping on various people’s couches, in crack houses or on the street. “Her disease ended up taking over every moral, value and boundary she ever had,” Lal’s mother, Vanisha Breault, explains. “It was heart-breaking. Every single day I waited for ‘that call,’ the one phone call every parent fears.” Breault isn’t alone in her fear. Here’s what you need to know about fentanyl and what to do if your teen is trying it.
WHAT IS FENTANYL?
According to Darryl Power, senior executive peer counsellor at the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC), fentanyl is “one of the most powerful drugs on the street and it is also a lethal chemical.” Used traditionally as an anaesthetic and to treat chronic pain, it’s 100 times more potent than morphine and 40 times more toxic than heroin. A mere two mg is enough to kill someone.
WHO’S TAKING IT?
“This drug is spreading like an epidemic,” Power says. “It isn’t really considered a party drug because, like other opioids, it is a downer.” More often, kids use it alone or in small groups, often at someone’s home. While some take it knowingly, Power and other leading experts from the Fentanyl Urine Screen Study (FUSS) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, believe fentanyl is being cut into pills on the black market, meaning people who think they’re taking oxycodone or another drug are unknowingly taking a mix containing fentanyl. A 2015 study by the BC Centre for Disease Control found that almost 29 per cent of the drug users they surveyed tested positive for fentanyl, nearly three-quarters of whom reported not having used it recently.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOUR KID IS ON FENTANYL?
According to Power, fentanyl users will appear tired, have low energy levels, sweat and nod off in a reduced state of consciousness. “They may also respond slowly while communicating, have very dilated pupils and appear really out of it,” he says. As with other drugs, parents should look for signs such as a change in mood, behaviour and attitude. Drug users usually spend less time at home and prefer to isolate themselves when around family. They’ll also become less interested in hobbies or activities they used to love. Items such as straws (some kids crush and snort the pills), rolled bills, pill crushers, syringes, nail files and a green residue (fentanyl tablets have a green dye) are also clues to look for.
Parents need to be able to talk to their kids, spread awareness and
feel confident with their information about the dangers associated
with recreational drugs.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOUR CHILD IS USING DRUGS?
Drug addiction can happen to anyone, says Power. “We see families from all walks of life at our centre, and they are good people that love their children.” If you suspect your child has a problem with drugs, talk to them and seek help immediately. “There are many services available, but many parents are waiting for something catastrophic to happen before they will admit that there is a real problem,” he says. By then it is often too late.
CAN PARENTS PREVENT DRUG ABUSE?
While parents can’t prevent addiction, they can encourage kids to make the right decision by providing an open and honest environment that promotes good communication, says Power. “Parents need to be able to talk to their kids, spread awareness and feel confident with their information about the dangers associated with recreational drugs. Parents also need to establish firm consequences for drug use,” he says. If that doesn’t prevent your kids from using, there may be a bigger problem behind their addiction, suggests Power. That’s a clear sign that it’s time to get help. Lal went to two sessions of rehab at the AARC but, last July, Breault received the call she had been dreading. Lal had suffered a near-fatal overdose. “By the time the ambulance got to her, she was blue. She was dead,” Breault recalls. Luckily, the medical staff was able to save Lal’s life and Breault fought to have her readmitted for treatment at the AARC. Breault, who has been sober for a few years now, continues to fight for the health and safety of now 17-year-old Lal who is still struggling to overcome the powerful addiction. “Seeing my [Eden] today is the greatest message to me to never give up, to never stop believing and to know that freedom and recovery are possible,” says Breault.