The Growing Fentanyl Epidemic — The Facts About “Fentapills” And The Rise In Student Overdoses

The Growing Fentanyl Epidemic — The Facts About “Fentapills” And The Rise In Student Overdoses

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the US opioid epidemic. Although the recent lockdowns have passed, there seems to be no end to the rise in opioid overdoses, especially among college students. Recent statistics even suggest drug-related fatalities have increased throughout the U.S.

Estimates from the DEA suggest at least 93,000 Americans die each year due to an opioid overdose. Overall, that represents a 38 percent year-on-year increase. For those under 24, the rate of opioid overdoses is increasing by at least 50 percent each year.

At the heart of the current opioid crisis is a synthetic compound called fentanyl. This incredibly dangerous opioid has become ubiquitous in the black market due to its high potency and low cost.

Drug dealers offering “prescription pills” will often sell fentanyl-laced drugs without telling unsuspecting students. Indeed, this tactic has become so common that authorities refer to these drugs as “fentapills.”

Parents and students can’t turn a blind eye to the fentanyl epidemic. Remaining silent on the rapid rise in fentapills will only put more students at risk.

“Fentapills are everywhere online these days”, says Ed Ternan, President of Song for Charlie. “If you get a Xanax, Percocet or oxy from a dealer, you can be sure it’s a fake, it contains fentanyl and might be deadly.”


Just How Serious Is the Fentanyl Epidemic for College Students?

According to the DEA’s latest findings, roughly 42 percent of all illicit pills now have at least 2 mg of fentanyl. While 2 mg may not seem like a lot, it’s way too much for a healthy young student.

Drug safety authorities claim it only takes two mg. of fentanyl to kill an adult. That means just one kilogram of fentanyl could kill approximately 500,000 people. In other words, you’d need at least 50 times as much heroin to have the same effect as 2 mg of fentanyl.

Also, keep in mind that two mg. of fentanyl is the max amount it takes to qualify as “certain death.” Scientists now claim you only need 1 mg of fentanyl for near-certain death, and 0.7 mg of fentanyl is likely to kill a user.

Even if there’s less than two mg. of fentanyl in a student’s fentapill, it’s likely this substance will cause either death or severe complications, which is what happened to Charlie Ternan in May 2020. He was just three weeks shy of his college graduation when he ingested a fake painkiller he bought online that turned out to be a fentapill. Since Charlie’s death, his parents, Mary and Ed Ternan, have been researching fake pills and fentanyl and have formed a nonprofit, Song For Charlie, dedicated to warning young people about this growing danger.

Where Are All These Fentapills Being Sold?

A big reason fentapills have become a major issue is due to their accessibility. Instead of meeting customers on the streets, drug dealers are using popular social media apps to lure students to their online shops.

Snapchat appears to be the primary hub for today’s illicit drug trade. DEA officials recently claimed the bulk of fentanyl pills sold to young students were listed on Snapchat or TikTok, although dealers are increasingly using newer platforms like Telegram and Discord.

According to fentapill survivors, drug dealers often use emojis to get around AI detectors or employees tasked with screening illicit activity.

It’s common for dealers on Snapchat to use a plug icon to signal a drug connection. Sometimes dealers could use colored dots to figure out what pills students want to buy. It’s also common for drug dealers to use a car animation to signify home delivery.

Unfortunately, authorities often don’t catch on to this Internet slang until it’s too late. By that point, many drug dealers may have already shifted their preferred emojis to evade detection. Some online dealers also know how to use unconventional fonts or obscured images to bypass standard algorithms.

Scarily, reporters at the Organization for Social Media Safety claimed they could contact a drug dealer in three minutes on most social media platforms. The Tech Transparency Project also found many pills like Xanax and Oxycontin are easy to order on sites like Snapchat and TikTok. Most likely, these prescription pills contain lethal traces of fentanyl.

What Are Social Media Sites Doing To Address the Fentanyl Epidemic?

Understandably, parents affected by fentanyl overdose have put increased pressure on social media giants. There have even been a few protests outside of Snapchat’s California headquarters.

In response to this criticism, Snapchat says it has invested heavily into its drug detection team and software. In 2022, Snapchat executives reported expanding its drug detection unit by almost 400 percent. The company also claims year-on-year drug deals have gone down by 31 percent, and its team of manual screeners catch 88 percent of total drug-trafficking messages.

Other sites like TikTok and Instagram also claim they’ve upped their game regarding drug detection. TikTok spokespeople recently said they use a combination of algorithms and in-person screeners to root out drug trafficking.

While these company policies may decrease fentapill sales, social media users have a role to play as well.  “We need to encourage platform users to report drug dealing when they see it”, says Ed Ternan, “Students should have zero tolerance for plugs offering deadly fentapills disguised as safe medicines.”

Reporting is easy and confidential, and Ternan hopes that students will overcome their reluctance to “snitch.”  “Fentapill dealers are defrauding your peers, who are just trying to relieve stress and end up getting poisoned.  You can make the dealer’s life difficult with just a few clicks and no one else will know.”

Fight the Fentapill Epidemic With Knowledge!

You shouldn’t rely on social media sites to save your students. While companies like Snapchat are increasing on-site policing, the scale of the current fentapill epidemic is vast—and it’s spreading fast.

The best way to address the issue of fentapills is to have an open discussion about fentanyl and the dangers of buying prescription pills online. Although online pills may look like legit Adderall, Xanax, or Prozac, chances are they aren’t what they claim to be. There’s no FDA screening for drugs sold online, so students should never trust anything they see listed on their favorite apps.

If students are struggling with health conditions, they should know the best strategy for recovery is to speak with a registered doctor. Only a licensed physician could legally dispense anti-anxiety pills, pain medications, or antidepressants. Under no circumstances should students trust strangers offering prescriptions online.