With schools returning to full in-person classes this week in New Jersey, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is asking parents to speak to their children about the dangers of drug use.

It's not a comfortable topic but one that is necessary, said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's New Jersey Division Susan Gibson. She suggests that parents have a frank conversation and be outspoken about how drugs can affect the development of a kid's brain and to not even open the door to drugs.

Dangers of fentanyl

Gibson said fentanyl is the biggest issue parents need to worry about today.

Drug traffickers can get fentanyl easily. It's cheap and they can sell it as any product they want to mask it in. For example, they can say a pill is methamphetamine when really it's fentanyl.

Fentanyl can kill a child with just one use. Gibson said a child needs to make sure what they put into their bodies at all times because, unfortunately, nobody knows what's in these drugs anymore.

"So just be smart about what you put into your body and getting this word out there and getting to your kids as early as you can is very, very important," Gibson said.

Gibson also said the DEA's New Jersey Division recently got a seizure of a shipment of 40 kilograms of fentanyl. One kilo can produce about 500,000 counterfeit pills. The seizure  took about $20 million fake pills off the street, according to Gibson.

Counterfeit pill concerns growing

Another significant concern is the increase in counterfeit pills flooding the illegal drug market.

Gibson said it takes as little as two milligrams in a pill that's counterfeit to kill somebody. Of course that has a lot of different factors based upon weight, usage and tolerance level. But Gibson said a child may not even be in the throes of addiction, but taking one wrong pill can kill them.

Just because a pill has a marking of a Percocet or an Oxycodone, does not mean it is that pill. So Gibson said it's so important to talk to children about these dangers.

"The earlier that we can get this information to kids, the more impactful it can be that they will make better and possibly life-saving choices in the future," she said.

Warning signs to watch for

Gibson said if a kid acts more withdrawn than the average teenager, that's a red flag. If there's a drop in their school grades, that can also be an indicator of drug use. Basically if the child is not acting like he or she usually does, that's something to be alarmed about.

Paying attention to who their kids hang out with could also clue parents into possible drug use. Gibson also urged parents to form friendships with other parents so as to develop a network with other people who have similar concerns.

Don't normalize drug use

Despite the recent legalization of adult recreation cannabis in New Jersey, it's important for parents not to normalize drug use in this country.

The DEA is concerned that thanks to the legalization of marijuana, kids may start to think it's more acceptable to take drugs. Gibson said kids can't go along with that narrative, adding that they need to understand that what they put in their bodies has consequences.

The drug scene changes so often and there are many new psychedelic drugs out there, said Gibson. Parents and teachers need to be able to identify these drugs, be educated and stay on top of this as best as possible, she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 92,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020 – the largest amount of overdose deaths ever in a 12- month period.

For DEA resources for parents and students, visit www.dea.gov www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.gov or www.JustThinkTwice.gov.

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