Alcohol is still the preferred substance for teens, according to Jennifer Britland with the Center for Humanistic Change, in Bethlehem.
Britland led a drug-trend training program recently for middle and high school personnel from Lower Macungie, Easton, Northwestern, Whitehall, Parkland, Freedom and the High School for the Performing Arts along with Lehigh University students and health care individuals.
The purpose of the training was to alert attendees to the trending drugs, recognize the signs and symptoms and learn the strategies to assist those with these problems.
For me, the topic was not new, just the ways teens are finding to get high.
A recent survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows 75 percent of high school students have tried tobacco, marijuana or alcohol.
Although alcohol is still the preferred substance, it is followed by cigarettes and marijuana. On the rise is prescription and over-the-counter medication and synthetic drugs.
Britland said if the perception of risk is low by the teen, the substance abuse will rise. She used the example of marijuana legalization in some states for medical purposes as giving the perception of a low risk. She said it makes it more confusing to the teen to have a nation divided.
She said many kids feel prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs are a "safe high."
With alcohol, teens are finding new ways to hide their use. The newest trend is "Boozy Bears" or "Rummy Bears," where the teens soak Gummy candy or fruit slices in alcohol. The sweetness of the candy masks the smell and taste of the alcohol and the candy does not change shape or size after soaking in alcohol.
Britland said teens are also soaking hair bands or hoodie strings in alcohol and then chewing or sucking on them.
Another trend is teens combining energy drinks, a $4 billion industry, with alcohol. Teens and young adults feel the effects of the caffeine so they underestimate the impact of the alcohol.
Regarding marijuana, Britland said it is more addictive now; "In the 1980s to 1990s, marijuana had a THC level of between four and six percent. Currently, marijuana is approximately 18 to 30 percent THC. The THC is the chemical in marijuana that causes the 'high'." She said marijuana is often laced with other substances such as cocaine, PCP or embalming fluid "Wet" to produce a stronger high.
I have written about synthetic drugs before such as bath salts, Spice, K2, Black Magic and others these drugs are marketed as "all natural herbal incense." These drugs were created in 1996 but hit the Lehigh Valley about five to seven years ago.
As of Aug. 23, 2011, bath salts are banned in Pennsylvania.
Reactions to these drugs can include hallucinations, chest pain, increased pulse and blood pressure, paranoia and more.
Another survey by NCASA in 2009 showed "more than one-third of teens, 8.7 million, said they can get prescription drugs to get high within a day; nearly one in five teens, 4.7 million, could get them within an hour."
Britland said reports show both teens and young adults obtain the majority of prescription drugs from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowlege.
Trends show teens are taking over-the-counter drugs such as cough suppressants and turning them into other drugs. Britland said the Internet shows teens how to make methamphetamines by using over-the-counter medication.
Britland suggested parents and school personnel use the five senses to determine if the student has been using an illegal substance: taste, sight, smell, touch and hearing. She said if the student brings in treats to school or into the home, adults should say, "Oh, I love Gummy bears; can I try one?"
Adults should also look for red or glassy eyes, hyperactivity, track marks, an increase in money or drug paraphernalia.
Britland said some drugs and substances have a peculiar smell; some marijuana smells like skunk, methamphetamine has a sweet smell and some drugs smell like chemicals or cat urine. She said to also be aware of an overpowering smell of perfume or cologne to mask other smells.
Regarding the sense of touch, adults should be aware of hollowed out tennis balls, soda cans or water bottles (to hide drugs), soaking wet clothing and look for any pills the students may have.
Lastly, adults should listen for conversations about drug use or drinking, excessive coughing and be aware of teens who have excessive bathroom use.
As parents, we should be on the lookout for our kids using eye drops to disguise drug use, plastic craft bags, inhalants, pacifers used to prevent lock jaw with certain drugs and peppermints.
The first time I attended one of these seminars, my sons were 11 and 7. Now 19 and 15, the information is as frightening to me now as it was then, perhaps more so as the drugs continue to get more powerful and the kids more creative in finding ways to acquire the substances.
I have known or heard of too many teens and adults who have died from huffing, bad batches of drugs or alcohol poisoning.
Although our school personnel and health care professionals have been trained in what to look for, parents must do their part.
Britland said adults should count the pills in prescription bottles and lock up the prescription drugs and alcohol. Parents are being held criminally responsible if alcohol is served to a minor in their home, even if the adults are not there.
If you suspect your teen has a problem, you can contact the school staff as every middle and high school must have student assistance certified staff. If you feel the teen is an immediate threat to themselves, call 9-1-1 or take them to the emergency room.
Parenting isn't easy; let's help one another to keep our kids safe.
East Penn Press