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Digital Parenting: How to talk to your kids about fentanyl crisis

Knowing more about your kid's app usage can be life-saving.

DALLAS — An episode of Y'all-itics last month with Drug Enforcement Agency Assistant Special Agent in Charge Wade Sparks brought up an eye-opening statistic. 

“The stat that is just amazing to me is last year DEA seized enough Fentanyl to kill every American," said Sparks.

His comments come after North Texas has seen several high profile overdoses and deaths among students at local schools. Simply put: the dangers of Fentanyl cannot be ignored. 

WFAA's extensive coverage of these overdoses, along with insight from experts like ASAC Sparks, have my wife and me convinced. We take the risk seriously enough that we've already started family discussions about the topic with our kids, the youngest of whom is 4 years old. 

Why? Fentanyl is a drug that is not only become easier for kids to find, but as ASAC Sparks mentioned above - it is incredibly lethal.

But first, a quick primer. Fentanyl belongs to a class of drugs called opioids - similar to prescribed painkillers like Oxycontin or illegal drugs like heroin. But instead of being grown in a field, Fentanyl is a synthetic, which means it's created in a lab and is so potent that just two milligrams can kill someone.

For comparison, a sugar packet contains 1,000 milligrams - or enough to kill 500 people. 

“Fifty times more potent than heroin," Sparks said. "107,000 people died last year from drug overdoses, and the majority of those are from synthetic opioids. And the vast majority of those synthetic opioids is fentanyl.”

So how can parents protect their kids? ASAC Sparks has several recommendations:

First, Sparks says today's teens aren't searching back alleys for the drug. Instead, they're getting access by shopping online or connecting with dealers through messaging features on common social media apps. Think Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat.

And instead of using basic text, to evade detection, communication is often through coded emoji. For instance, a candy bar or blue "M" may reference a specific drug. 

Secondly, payments are often through phone apps as well. Instead of cash, users will pay through Cash App, Venmo, PayPal or others. He warns that these pills are relatively inexpensive. Just $20 bucks could be all it costs to buy enough Fentanyl to kill. 

This means parents have to be more diligent than ever in starting tough conversations with their kids and knowing what they're doing on their phones. Beware of any changes in behavior, and don't be afraid to ask questions about the apps on a child's device - especially payment apps. 

Sparks said the bottom line is that the decision for parents to stay involved and connected could just save their lives. 

“The good news is you're not completely helpless," Sparks said. "There are ways to get ahead of this and at least be aware of what to look for."

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