Why all parents should get Narcan and more on the dangers of fentanyl

Left: A pill containing fentanyl. (iStock) Right: The overdose-reversal drug Narcan. (Matt Rourke/AP)
9 min

This story has been updated.

Federal, state and local governments are scrambling to address the threat posed by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has set off the deadliest drug epidemic in American history. The FDA is considering making the antidote Narcan available over the counter, states are legalizing fentanyl test strips, and local jurisdictions are holding opioid awareness and Narcan training sessions.

Parents, too, can help, say public health experts, by making sure they have Narcan nasal spray available in their home.

“It is such an important lifesaving medication, with really no side effects and no danger from using it, that everyone should just consider having it as a part of their first aid kit,” said Erin McKnight, medical director of the Substance Use Treatment and Recovery Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s one of those things that you don’t realize you need until the moment arises.”

Fentanyl is a highly addictive opioid that can be manufactured legally and illegally. It is stronger, cheaper and more readily available than heroin and other opioids, leaving substance users at greater risk of overdose. A lethal dose of fentanyl for adults is 2 milligrams, compared with 30 milligrams for heroin. Children can be poisoned by much less.

Why is fentanyl so dangerous?

One form of the drug is “rainbow fentanyl,” which can come as colorful pills or as powder, or as something that looks like sidewalk chalk.

Manufacturers of illicit drugs also often add fentanyl to counterfeit pain, anxiety and ADHD medications to make them stronger or more addictive, which is another reason for the spike in overdoses.

Here’s what else parents need to know about fentanyl and the antidote Narcan.