The fentanyl patch, a powerful narcotic analgesic, has become popular with teenagers and has raised social concerns.
The drug, usually used to treat patients with end-stage cancer, is about 100 times more potent than morphine and can be dangerous if used for non-medical purposes. Tolerance and addiction develop very quickly and potentially lead to death due to the risk of overdose and decreased respiratory function.
Despite these dangers, teenagers have recently started obtaining illegal prescriptions through a loophole where some hospitals and clinics will prescribe the narcotic drug without verifying their identity or medical history.
According to reports, teenagers take the drug by heating the patch after placing it on aluminum foil and inhaling the fumes. The drug has already gained popularity among some teenagers. The Narcotics Division of the South Gyeongsang Provincial Police Agency recently arrested 42 teenagers for illegally buying and using the fentanyl patch.
According to the police department, the teenagers could easily buy the patch by complaining about back pain, even though the drug is an ethical drug that can only be bought with a prescription from a hospital.
The teenagers reportedly said they became addicted to drugs after starting to use the drug out of curiosity. Police have confirmed that while the teenagers realized that the fentanyl patch was a drug, they didn’t think it would cause any major problems because the patch is legal to buy with a prescription.
Police said the phenomenon of teenagers using fentanyl patches as an anesthetic could be a problem across the country, as one of the arrested students commented that he started using the patch after learning from an acquaintance who lived in the Seoul metropolitan area how to administer drugs.
Although fentanyl use is growing rapidly among teenagers as they can also purchase the patch through online and social media platforms, the educational community is slow to respond.
The drug abuse training materials emphasize the dangers of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, but contain little, if any, information about harsh narcotics such as hemp, fentanyl, or heroin.
Some teachers said they recognized the need to include such drugs in class materials but fear it as it could pique students’ curiosity and encourage them to try the drug.
“Similar is the case with the recent controversy over sex education in schools,” said a teacher at a middle school in Seoul. “When the standard for sex education was first proposed, there was a lot of opposition. We are careful about including such drugs in educational materials.”
Lack of education, information about substance abuse
In contrast, others complained that there was too little information about new drugs.
“We can’t even find out if our students are using them because we don’t know what they look or smell like,” said a teacher who works at a high school in Gyeonggi Province. “For example, I heard a story where a teacher confiscated rolled-up cigarettes from students but later found out it was cannabis.”
The number of young drug abusers has risen sharply, from 69 in 2017 to 241 in 2020.
One expert emphasized that the benefits of education outweigh the possible negative aspects.
“It is true that there has been an increase in consultations and inquiries about drugs such as hemp and fentanyl in recent years,” said Lee Han-duk, director of the Korean Association Against Drug Abuse drug rehabilitation center. “The problem with drugs seems to be getting worse, which explains why society should educate young people about the dangers of drug use.”
Lee pointed out that narcotics, including drugs, are very powerful substances that act on the brain.
“Teenagers are invariably more susceptible to these substances because their brains are still growing,” he said. “It is important to take preventive measures for young people.”
In reality, however, Korean society generally believes that there is not a big problem with drugs and pays little attention to their prevention, Lee noted.
“Even if schools say they are working to prevent teenage drug use, society is still not informed about such drugs,” he said. “The government revised the School Health Act and asked schools to take action to prevent abuse and abuse of narcotics last June, but progress is too slow and insufficient.”
Lee acknowledged that because there are so many of them, teachers may not be familiar with all of the narcotics available for sale.
“However, it is necessary to know which narcotics are currently a problem,” he said. “Students should be taught regularly by teachers or external experts.”