How do I talk to my child about an overdose and the stigma around it?

Teen overdoses are more common than ever, not because more teens are using drugs, but because the drugs are more potent and sometimes contain other more dangerous substances. When someone overdoses, it may become the subject of conversation – or gossip – in the community. Some people may judge them for using drugs or criticize their family for allowing this to happen.

These types of comments can shape how your child thinks about and treats people who use drugs. Your child may also feel pressure to keep questions and concerns about drugs to themselves and not ask for support when they need it. This is an opportunity to begin a pattern of open and honest conversations, which is also a powerful way to deter overdoses. You can lead by example, approaching the subject with knowledge, wisdom, and compassion, rather than fear or judgment. Try this interactive scenario and equip yourself with the information to help your child combat stigma and make safe and informed choices.

What is an overdose?

An overdose is when someone takes a dangerous amount of a drug, sometimes without realizing it. An overdose can cause dangerously slow breathing, cardiac arrest, permanent brain damage and/or death. Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray can reverse or reduce the effects of an opioid overdose.

What motivates someone who overdoses?

Sometimes people use drugs because they’re bored, stressed, or because they want to seem cool. Sometimes a dangerous and cheaply made substance such as fentanyl causes an overdose because it’s hidden in other drugs, such as counterfeit prescription pills.

Should my child avoid someone who overdosed?

Your child’s safety should always be top priority. A secondary priority should be showing compassion to – and not gossiping about – someone who survived an overdose and needs support. If a parent does not forgive those who make mistakes, their child may feel unable to ask for help, for fear of the repercussions.

Should we call 911 if someone overdoses?

Immediate medical help is crucial in helping someone survive an overdose. Good Samaritan Laws protect people who overdose or call 911 to help. These laws vary by state and may or may not cover immigration status. Research your state’s laws and create a plan with your child if they ever find themselves in such a situation.

Good Samaritan Laws by state (English):

Directory of Immigration Legal Aid Organizations (English and Spanish)