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Overdose Education and Young People
Overdose deaths in people under 30 have risen nationally and in Washington State.
Like any age group, young people’s opioid use can range from no use to use disorder and everything in between. Young people may use opioids for different reasons, including social pressure, to feel good, to not feel bad, to cope with mental health (depression/anxiety), to help sleep, due to boredom, and even sensation-seeking.
Today, overdose education is as important as how to prepare for any other health emergency. Young people can reduce their own risks for overdose and know how to respond if someone else has an overdose.
Anyone of any age can learn and provide overdose education. Building knowledge to address risks can occur throughout the community:
- Young people can educate themselves and other their friends and family
- Parents and caregivers
- Youth-focused organizations and non-profits
- Mental health professionals
- Juvenile corrections programs
- Youth SUD treatment programs
- Schools-nurses, counselors, teachers.
Fentanyl and Young People
Most recent overdose deaths in young people involved fentanyl, a very strong opioid that can cause rapid overdose. Fentanyl in Washington State is often in the form of counterfeit pills that look like real prescription pills and can also be present in powders or other forms.
Fentanyl can rapidly lead to addiction because it is strong and short acting. This can create a cycle where a person feels really good, then really bad, so they use again and repeat the cycle. They start off using to feel good, but pretty quickly transition to using in order to avoid feeling bad or going into painful withdrawal. No one plans to get addicted but it happens.
Tips for “Talking with teens about fentanyl” from Public Health-Seattle & King County.
Basics of Overdose Education for Young People
Overdose education for young people should include:
- Overdose risks, including fentanyl
- Overdose signs
- How to respond to an overdose
- Naloxone and where to get it. There is no age limit on who can get naloxone in WA State
- WA State’s Good Samaritan Law, which also covers minor in possession of alcohol
- How to access harm reduction, treatment and the WA Recovery Help Line
Information about the WA State Good Samaritan Law is especially important for young people, who may hesitate to get emergency help because they are afraid of legal consequences.
“Talk Even If” has resources to help parents and other adults talk to young people about fentanyl and overdose. This campaign from King County has specific tips and strategies to help parents have this conversation.
Tips for Talking About Overdose with Young People
Ask questions and listen without judgment
Emphasize that they can use this information to help someone else
If you think someone is at risk for overdose, focus on safety rather than judgment
Building on Overdose Education
Overdose prevention can be a way to talk about other relevant behavioral health issues, including mental health, safe use of medications, managing stress and pain without medications, and helping others be safe. For example, talking about why people use opioids can lead to a discussion about healthy coping strategies.
Below are resources for mental health, overdose prevention and response, and substance use disorder treatment.