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Fentanyl, Should Parents be Concerned?

You may have heard recently that Christian musician, TobyMac, lost his 21 year old son. TobyMac wrote a heartfelt song about it entitled, “21 years.”(1) If you search for it online, you better get your tissues because you’re going to need them. The cause of his son’s death was recently released publicly and sadly fentanyl was involved in his death.

Who else?

Toby Mac’s family is not alone as other artists have lost their lives to fentanyl as well. Fentanyl was involved with Prince(2) and Tom Petty’s death(3) as well. Have you ever noticed that people gasp when they hear of these deaths but don’t really take notice when the cause of death comes out?

So, what is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It has been around since the 1959(4) and medically it is sometimes used in a patch form for those with cancer to relieve pain and the military have used it for those in trauma in lozenger form.(5,6) It is often used to relieve pain and sedate. It is used with animals as well.

What does fentanyl look like?

Fentanyl can come in many forms including orally, smoked, snorted and injected. It is often undetected to those who consume it. However, it can be seen to look like small granules or powder. Some people think it looks like salt. It is extremely potent! Often 50-100 times stronger than morphine.(7) Sadly, in recent years, it has surpassed heroin in overdoses.(8)

How is fentanyl being linked to overdoses?

Fentanyl has been used for decades so why are there so many recent overdoses associated with it? The concern appears to be with the illegally made fentanyl. It can be put in heroin, cocaine, marijuana and counterfeit pills.

How is fentanyl being abused?

It is not uncommon for adolescents and young adults to have impulsive risk taking behaviors using substances as alcohol, marijuana, etc. A child or young adult may have a friend offer him a pill that helps him focus more in school to get better grades or so they can reach the next level on their video game. A teen or college age person may try marijuana to ease their school or social anxiety. Whatever the reasoning, it only takes once, and the outcome can be deadly. One quick spur of the moment decision can change a life forever.

Where do we start in bringing awareness to fentanyl abuse?

For starters, families and friends need to have discussions about fentanyl and how it is being abused especially with our youth. This needs to be an ongoing conversation so that is communicated that it is serious. Role play scenario’s where someone offers your loved one a substance and how to say “no”. Families, the time is now to have these discussions.

By Robin Bartko, MS

Robin is a Certified Health Coach and Certified Health Education Specialist. She specializes in assisting families who are struggling.


  1. Jess the WebGirl. (2020, January 10). TOBYMAC. Retrieved February 05, 2020, from

  2. Painkiller". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 5, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2017.

  3. Coscarelli J (2018). "Tom Petty Died From Accidental Drug Overdose Involving Opioids, Coroner Says". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2018-01-20. Retrieved 2018-01-20.

  4. López-Muñoz F, Alamo C (April 2009). "The consolidation of neuroleptic therapy: Janssen, the discovery of haloperidol and its introduction into clinical practice". Brain Research Bulletin. 79 (2): 130–41

  5. Plante GE, VanItallie TB (October 2010). "Opioids for cancer pain: the challenge of optimizing treatment". Metabolism. 59 Suppl 1: S47–52.

  6. Shachtman N (September 10, 2009). "Airborne EMTs Shave Seconds to Save Lives in Afghanistan". Danger Room. Wired. Archived from the original on July 6, 2010. Retrieved July 1, 2010

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2019, May 31). Fentanyl. Retrieved February 05, 2020, from

  8. Reinberg, Steven (December 12, 2018). "Fentanyl overtakes heroin as the No. 1 opioid overdose killer". CBS. Retrieved December 12, 2018

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