My family and I (three toddlers, a preteen in braces, two adult daughters, two husbands and a too small budget) just got back from the beach for a quick weekend get-a-way.
While there, I stressed about all the normal things a mama worries about when taking her kiddos to the beach: sharks, jellyfish, sunburn, drowning, strangers, lightning strikes… and not necessarily in that order. All are typical mama bear worries. But I stayed close and vigilant, and I felt secure in the knowledge that I was taking all the proper precautions.
What I did not worry about was an opioid overdose. I mean, why should I? My boys are three – hardly in the demographic danger zone. And my adult daughters do not use and never have.
Turns out, I should worry. An opioid overdose could pose a very real threat to all of us, despite none of us being addicts. I’m not talking drug abuse anyway. I’m talking overdose.
But just what does that differentiation matter, if none in my family is a user anyway?
Apparently, a lot. Because this morning I saw a story on the news about a 10-year old boy in Miami who died of a Fentanyl overdose on June 23rd. Yes, 10, and yes, Fentanyl.
And while there have been other stories seemingly like this one — of young children, toddlers and elementary aged — who have died of overdoses after accidentally ingesting controlled substances, those stories are usually followed up with accusations of parental drug abuse. And arrests. And pictures in case files of crack pipes and needles and mysterious powders on the premises.
This was not that kind of story.
This boy’s mother has not and will not be charged. His parents are completely innocent of all wrong doing. Their child did nothing wrong. Did nothing risky. He had simply gone swimming and played in a neighborhood park.
Authorities believe he inadvertently came in contact with the highly-lethal Fentanyl either while visiting a neighborhood pool or afterwards on his walk home. It would’ve only taken a milligram or two sitting on a towel or park swing, which he then either absorbed or inhaled or ingested after unknowingly touching the synthetic substance.
This is horrifying on every level. Everyone knows toddlers and children everywhere touch anything and everything. And then their curious fingers wind up in their mouths way more often than any mother is comfortable admitting. But up until now, the fear has been strep or staph or the common cold on those doorknobs and monkey bars and tabletops. Not highly lethal doses of drugs. I can’t imagine that was ever a consideration. Up until now.
I watch the news. I’ve seen the stories. Our country is in a major opioid crisis. Deaths from overdose have risen 110% in some parts of our nation. Fentanyl is one of the reasons.
Now, I know first responders have to be cautious. I know they use gloves and carry Narcan. I know they are trained to spot the symptoms of overdose — in others and themselves, as they are at risk of coming into contact with the drug and its users every single day. Of course, they have to be super cautious.
But I never thought I had to. As long as I am careful about who comes into my house and whose house I let the boys into, I assumed we were all in the clear. Clearly, I’ve been wrong.
So what do I do now? How do I protect my children, all of us, from such a dangerous and almost invisible substance? Protect them from a drug that can kill in doses as incredibly small as grains of sand? From a drug that has no smell or taste? From a drug 100 times more potent than heroin? From a drug that can cause an overdose in mere minutes?
The stories and statistics send me into hyperventilation and hypervigilance. I already wipe down buggies at grocery stores and tables at restaurants. Now, I will be on the lookout for strange powders, I will carry wipes with me everywhere I go, and I will swab any and every available surface — whether it looks clear or not. Lysol stock will soar from my diligence.
And sadly, playgrounds and public toilets will receive my most earnest attentions. Addicts use these places. I’ve seen movies. And, if that weren’t enough, I’ve seen evidence that points to this reality.
While travelling this weekend, my husband and son were forced to use an Atlanta gas station restroom. Not necessarily our first choice, but when a newly potty-trained toddler tells you he has to go – you’d best proceed to the nearest available option. (We used the lawn of a small country church on the way home – much cleaner, and we knew God would understand.) But back to that city gas station — Security knocked on the door when Mike and Parker were in there for longer than the allotted two minutes posted on the door, revealing to me how very naïve I truly am, and how very dark our world truly is.
Because as a mother, if I see a father and his young son go into a restroom and take a little longer than what would be deemed normal, I think “mom-of-toddler” thoughts. I automatically assume that the poor dad is in there juggling britches and Mickey Mouse underpants and that toy dump truck the kid had with him, while helicoptering his tyke over the toilet seat away from the dangers of e coli bacteria. I do not think “security-guard-in-urban-setting” thoughts. I do not automatically assume that the grown-ass man in the toilet with the toddler is either: 1) up to no good with a sweet, little innocent, or 2) he’s up to no good with a sweet little innocent in tow. Either way is horrific and apparently, a very real occurrence.
I guess there are a hell of a lot more things on this earth than are dreamt of in my rose-colored philosophy. So while I was vigilantly keeping an eye out for sharks, jellyfish, sunburn, drowning, strangers, and lightning strikes, I didn’t realize that there are potential dangers lurking out there far deadlier than sharks and far more random and lethal than lightning strikes.
But I will be taking proper precautions for those now, too.
And I will pray. A lot.