INDIANAPOLIS — New studies show the number of children dying from fentanyl overdoses is rising at an alarming rate.
Tuesday is National Fentanyl Awareness Day, and federal law enforcement officials in Central Indiana say it is crucial people help spread the word about the dangers of this synthetic drug.
More than 5,000 kids and teens died from the drug in the past two years, according to Yale researchers. As the opioid epidemic persists, federal law enforcement says the drug has flooded many communities across the country.
“Fentanyl is the most dangerous drug I’ve ever seen in my career with DEA,” said Drug Enforcement Agency Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Indianapolis Michael Gannon.
Gannon said federal agents seized more than 50 million fake pills laced with fentanyl last year.
“Six out of every 10 had a potentially fatal dosage unit,” he said. “So, just staggering numbers.”
Experts say what makes the drug so dangerous is how little can kill a person. It can often be laced in anything, from Adderall to meth.
“Fentanyl kills,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Zachary Myers. “And it is an extremely powerful opioid that leads to overdose with just as little as the tip of a pencil.”
In Marion County, the DEA said fentanyl was involved in a majority of fatal overdoses in 2021.
“There were 826 overdose deaths,” Gannon said. “Of them, 641 were fentanyl or opioid-related.”
According to data published in the study, more than 1,500 minors nationwide died from fentanyl overdoses in 2021. That number is more than 30 times higher than the number in 2013.
Gannon said parents, teachers, coaches and adults now have an urgent message they need to share with children.
“If you run the risk of getting drugs from a drug dealer, or you’re utilizing social media to get drugs, or from someone you don’t know, you’re risking your life every time you take that drug,” Gannon said. “Because we’re telling you it’s being laced with fentanyl.”
Infants and toddlers are not immune to the issue either. According to the Yale study, 40 infants and 93 children ages 1 to 4 died from a fentanyl overdose in 2021. Experts say those overdose deaths usually result from leaving drugs within reach.
“It’s awful,” Gannon said. “I mean I equate that to leaving a loaded weapon on a table and leaving it in a room.”
The DEA says it is important to remember any time you misuse a drug, it can lead to abuse. Gannon said awareness is a key part of prevention.