The number of people who have died from heroin and opioids in the United States has more than quadrupled since 1999, according to numbers from the CDC. Drug overdose is now a greater cause of death than car accidents.
Although many people unfortunately develop an opioid addiction through the use of prescription pain relievers, prescription abuse is no longer the easiest way to gain access to these drugs. The Internet has become a major player in the opioid industry, with purchases made on the so-called “dark web”—the part of the Internet that exists on encrypted networks and requires special software to access. Since traffic on the dark web is difficult to trace, it is a prime venue for illicit commerce.
Exacerbating this problem is a particular synthetic opioid—fentanyl—which is extremely potent. Because only a tiny amount is enough to get an adult high and only a few flakes of it are enough to cause an overdose, large quantities of it can be transported in a standard first-class envelope. Dealers in China have been known to deliver the drug through the US Mail by routing it through Hong Kong. The dark web is making it easier than ever for dangerous opioids to reach the streets in the United States.
The opioid epidemic is a major public health problem that will require the best efforts of law enforcement, legislators, and local communities to solve. Parents and families may not be able to immediately stop illegal drugs from reaching the streets, but they can teach common sense practices to their children to help protect them. Although the dangers are different, the solutions are largely the same—the chief of which is clear communication between parents and children.
Communicate with your children about the dangers of drug use. And remember that communication is a two-way street: be willing to listen to your children’s experiences of peer pressure, and provide a safe space for them to share their experiences with you—without fear of punishment. Having a strong relationship with your child and encouraging strong and healthy relationships with responsible peers is one of the best ways to prevent high-risk behaviors like experimenting with illicit drugs.
Communicate, too, about the risks of the Internet. In our digital age, it is not unheard of for a curious teenager to explore the dark web and the “deep web”—the part of the Internet not indexed by standard search engines, which houses the dark web. Help your child understand the legal and ethical implications of Internet use, and instill in them a healthy fear of products and services that they may find on the web. Be sure you know what your child is doing on the Internet, and find a positive outlet for their interests—like a coding class.