What the Teen Fentanyl Epidemic Reveals

News: Commentary
by Paul Brock III  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 12, 2023   

A life without purpose leads to death

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Teen overdose deaths have doubled in the past three years, and fentanyl is the main culprit. So the uninspiring "say no to drugs" strategy has proven itself an utter failure. Life's problems, according to the modern world, can be solved with narcotics. As such, vulnerable youth seeking alleviation and transcendence are turning to these counterfeit solutions and are walking right into the jaws of death. Because real transcendence is not found in a temporary high or in a secular education program that offers no lasting alternative to the stoner lifestyle, people must take shelter in true religion, the only authentic remedy for the current crisis. 

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Street drugs increasingly contain fentanyl

The American Drug Crisis

The American opioid epidemic, which began with Big Pharma and its promotion of "non-addictive" prescription pain pills, is currently being driven by fentanyl-laced street drugs. It was recently revealed that the rapper Coolio died last year from an accidental fentanyl overdose, and similar headlines are commonplace today.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid "50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has crept into nearly every corner of the drug world. Dr. Hoover Adger Jr., professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, puts it this way: "I have patients who think they're taking marijuana, but it's marijuana laced with fentanyl."

Drug Enforcement Agency Agent Rogeana Patterson-King makes similar observations: "We're seeing fentanyl in everything from your marijuana, your meth, cocaine, your heroin, and these counterfeit pills." Louisiana Sheriff Randy Smith warns, "When you purchase drugs, even marijuana, off the street, you do not know truly what you are getting." In short, people smoking marijuana for a quick high or popping pills to get through the day are often unwittingly consuming fentanyl and, as a result, coming to early deaths.

There's a good chance that fentanyl is involved if someone overdoses.

This isn't exactly a rare occurrence, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse explicates: "Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 2021" (emphasis added).

So today, there's a good chance that fentanyl is involved if someone overdoses, and this is even more likely to be the case if the person is a youth. According to a 2021 study of CDC data, among adolescents (persons 1418 years old), "between 2019 and 2020, overdose mortality increased by 94.03%." The study also found that fentanyl was identified in "77.14% of adolescent overdose deaths." 

Put simply, the opioid epidemic is really primarily a fentanyl epidemic, and because this killer drug hides in "safer" narcotics like marijuana and pain medication, teens are flatlining at an alarming rate. 

More Pills, Less Religion

Fifty years ago in America, even in the midst of the sexual revolution, it was seen as absurd not to believe in God. In 1972, 1 in 20 adults identified as religiously unaffiliated; in 2021, it's almost 1 in 3. In other words, it wasn't the 1960s and 1970s "free love" movement that immediately coincided with people abandoning their religious beliefs — at least that's not what the numbers say. Rather, it was something that happened in the 1990s, for this is when American irreligiosity spiked. Curiously, that's when mind-numbing and highly addictive pain medication crashed onto the scene.

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Pew Research reveals Christianity tanking during the 1990s

Indeed, according to a study featured by the National Library of Medicine, "An epidemic of opioid prescribing began in the 1990s. ... From 1999 to 2010, overdose deaths due to opioid pain relievers increased continuously, a time known as the first wave of the opioid epidemic." And the problem, the study goes on to point out, only got worse "due to heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl." 

Two Losing Approaches

Every day there's a new story about a teen losing his life to fentanyl, so, every day, there's a debate about how to solve the growing problem.

One side pushes for more drug prohibition, asserting that if the nation passes stricter laws against narcotics, the problem will eventually dissipate. The other side argues against this kind of prohibition, claiming that banning narcotics only fuels the black market, whence teens are getting their fentanyl-laced drugs to begin with.

The false binary presents as a real 'Sophie's choice.'

Thus, members of this camp, like senior CATO Fellow Jeffrey Singer, argue that Congress should move to decriminalize drugs altogether because the black market is a clear and present danger to youths. For the well-formed Christian, however, neither of these options is sufficient. The false binary presents as a real "Sophie's choice." And we shouldn't be content to confine ourselves to it.

More Than Saying No to Drugs

In America, the death of religion coincided with the birth of industrial-strength narcotics. Perhaps then, the first step in the American people's return to God will be the pursuit of a deeper embrace of reality, which does not rely on temporary highs and momentary pleasures.

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This 13-year-old died from a counterfeit 
Percocet pill containing fentanyl

And as it was government-approved "medicine" that helped facilitate the drug crisis that is now wiping out American teens every day, the remedy will consist of parents and families — and not big government — taking responsibility, protecting children and educating them in virtue, right living and the spiritual life. 

The fentanyl epidemic needs solving, but because no approach currently contemplated strikes at the root cause of the problem, the proffered solutions are mere Band-Aids. Teens are not jonesing for drugs just because substance abuse makes them feel good. Rather they're keen on drugs because that's the one "remedy" for pain and emptiness that the world offers them.

Godless conventional parents and leaders are incapable of helping these youngsters because the only advice they give comes in the form of the banal, public school pep-rally "say no to drugs" speech. The reason teens are not saying no to drugs is that parents and leaders aren't offering them a true and good alternative.

But it's not too late. 

In the final analysis, the debased Western family is to blame for the spate of teen overdoses. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children," and this especially means pedagogy in the religious and moral life (¶2223).

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A 1950s nuclear family 

Therefore, American parents should look inward — not to the government or some secular education program — to solve this problem. Teens are looking for transcendence, peace and liberation, but thanks to awful parents and their secular bromides, they're looking in all the wrong places. Fleeting satisfaction and becoming "comfortably numb" pass today for things of profound worth. And because of this, kids are chasing the chimerical euphoria of intoxication all the way to the grave. 

Society ought to give these teens what they're looking for; that is, it ought to provide them with real transcendence, authentic peace and true liberation. This is God, for "He transcends the world" (CCC, ¶212); this is Christianity, for "earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ (CCC,  ¶2305); and this is Christ's Church, "which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation" (CCC,  ¶2448).

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