British Columbia

Fentanyl overdoses: how to talk to your kids about drugs

As fentanyl-related overdoses spike across Canada, one addictions researcher discusses strategies parents can use to educate their children about these substances.

Don't try and scare your kids with overdose stories, says addictions researcher

Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. The synthetic opioid painkiller is flooding the illegal drug market and has been involved in a rash of drug overdoses across Canada. (Canadian Press)

As fentanyl-related overdoses continue to dominate Canadian headlines, parents might be tempted to use the news to scare their children away from using drugs.

But Dan Reist, assistant director with the Centre for Addictions Research, says that's not the best approach. Here are his recommendations for talking to your child about drugs.

The scare factor doesn't work

"The scare value on its own has been shown to be quite ineffective for the children who are most at risk of doing something crazy with drugs," said Reist. 

Reist said children are more likely to reject horror stories and extreme worst-case scenario examples because of their "crap factor."

Instead, parents should strive to have open discussions about the costs and benefits associated with different types of drug use, he said.

"We need to start introducing them to the fact that these substances are part of the human culture, part of our history, and we need to help our children understand them and respect them." 

Not one drug talk, but many

"There [are] many opportunities in life for us to explore these things in a way that is not like having 'the drug conversation,' and yet sets the stage for building competency and using drugs effectively," Reist said.

Reist recommends taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to drug education.

That means looking for everyday instances where you can talk about drugs, for example, when it comes up on TV, rather than bringing down the hammer when your kid drives home drunk. 

What if you've never raised the issue before?

If your children are already teenagers and you haven't spoken with them about drugs, Reist said it's never too late to start.

"I would want to be saying to my 13-year-old, 'I should have had this conversation with you a long time ago. I haven't, and that's my mistake. This showing up in the news right now about fentanyl reminds me that we do need to have that conversation.'"

Reist stressed the importance of engaging in conversation with your children, as opposed to telling them what to do or what to think.

"I just want to remind parents that building a positive, good, solid, open relationship with our children is the best thing we can do to protect them."


To hear the full interview with Dan Reist, listen to the audio labelled: How to talk to your kids about drugs like fentanyl.

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