Kentucky child’s death from fentanyl fuels confusion and conspiracy theories

In March, a Kentucky child died after having a suspected allergic reaction to strawberries. The Hopkins County Health Department advised residents to dispose of strawberries purchased at a local school fundraiser out of an abundance of caution, but FDA testing later determined that the strawberries were safe. Last week, the Hopkins County Coroner reported that the child’s actual cause of death was fentanyl poisoning. The story was picked up by both local and national news outlets and has spread quickly across social media platforms. Some social media users are expressing anger towards the child’s parents and questioning how the child came into contact with fentanyl, while others are suggesting without evidence that the strawberries were “laced” with fentanyl.

Recommendation: These conversations illustrate the public’s confusion about how fentanyl exposure works and may increase stigma against people who use drugs. Messaging may emphasize that fentanyl overdoses occur when the substance is ingested by mouth, intravenous use, or snorting. Informing parents about ways to protect children from accidental fentanyl exposure is recommended. Trending conversations about fentanyl also provide an opportunity to push out existing messaging that outlines the signs of opioid overdose and what to do when an overdose is suspected. Ensuring that informational materials, especially on websites and in toolkits for community-based organizations, include clear instructions on when and how to use naloxone and explain that naloxone is safe for people of all ages is also recommended.