How Much Do Your Friends Know About Fentanyl?

Thursday November 10, 2022


Doctor explains prescription pills to a patient

Less than half of young Americans ages 13-24 and just over a third of teens know that fake pills are manufactured with fentanyl, according to a study commissioned by nonprofit charity Song for Charlie.

Drug deaths caused by accidental poisoning among Americans ages 13-24 almost doubled during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic and spiked in 2021 by a further 20% to 7,500 deaths.

Song for Charlie focuses on raising awareness about the danger of fentanyl-infused fake pills; 80% of 2021’s 7,500 deaths involved fentanyl, a figure that rose from 57% in 2018. The Drug Enforcement Administration seized around 10 million fake pills in 2021, more than double 2020’s total.

Around 40% of fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. Professionals cannot tell the difference between real pills and fake ones. Adding to this problem is the fact that distributors market fake pills – which contain no pharmaceutical product – to youth over social media.

One in five young adults and one in ten teens reported using prescription drugs off-script. But 60% of young adults and teens ages 13-17 deemed it very risky to use prescription drugs without a doctor’s approval; 30% described it as somewhat risky. Meanwhile, only 40% of young Americans and 31% of teens called themselves knowledgeable about fentanyl.

Furthermore, only 68% of young Americans and 58% of teens rate fentanyl as seven or higher on a 10-point scale of danger. Even though fentanyl claimed five and ten times as many deaths as did cocaine and heroin, respectively, in 2021, a much higher figure of 80% of young Americans rated the latter two substances a seven or above on the same scale.

"These findings underscore the importance of accelerating our work to educate young Americans about the dangers of fentapills," said Song for Charlie President Ed Ternan. "Like far too many families, we suffered an unspeakable loss because our son didn't know the pill he was buying was fake and could be deadly. Today, more young Americans understand that danger than they did last year - but millions remain at risk because they don't understand just how grave the consequences can be of taking a pill purchased from an illegitimate source. We're grateful to our partners that are getting the word out and we all must do more to arm kids with what they need most: truthful, reliable information."

Click here to view the full set of questions and results from Song for Charlie’s survey.