Byrnes Health Center educates parents with Drugs 101
Nikole Tome held up a black T-shirt with an angry snowman on it for a group of parents sitting in a classroom at the Byrnes Health Education Center on Wednesday night.
The focus of the two-hour workshop can shift depending on what the school or organization is looking for. Presenters are prepared to educate a group on a variety of substances including cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, prescription drugs, heroin and synthetic drugs. During the workshop Wednesday, Jamie Reisinger, director of education services, said they would focus on the latter three because they have been the most prevalent.
The Drugs 101 program, which the center has hosted for 10 years or so, focuses on the basics of addiction and drug use so parents, adults and educators are prepared to identify potentially dangerous activities teens may be engaging in. The program utilizes an interactive approach and combines sketches, videos and PowerPoint presentations as well as question-and-answer sessions to communicate its message.
"I'm going to tell you right now, he's not mad because of the blizzard," the center's assistant director of education services said of the angry snowman on the T-shirt. Tome went on to explain the symbol was a nod to cocaine use, and it was only one of the 80-some objects, hidden in a mock bedroom for the event, that could be an indicator of drug use.
Gateway: Presenters started the class off with a discussion on marijuana, alcohol and tobacco, which they referred to as the gateway drugs.
"It's no shocker that these are at the top of all the lists," Reisinger said. "The gateway drugs are the most used and abused of any of the substances we talk about. Most kids don't just start off with heroin or cocaine, and while those things are both a conversation, that's not where it starts."
He noted children in a kind of transition are the most likely to begin exploring these avenues, whether it be a change in school, a divorce or puberty.
Tome went over some of the emerging slang terms for the gateway drugs and also highlighted some of the newer trends. For tobacco she used examples like e-cigarettes, which have liquid flavors like grape and gummy bear, specifically designed to target a younger demographic. Tome also talked about hookah and noted that an hour of smoking hookah can be equivalent to smoking nearly 200 cigarettes.
She also talked about some of the more extreme trends when it came to drinking, which include taking shots through the eye, using tampons soaked in alcohol and eating gummy snacks that have also absorbed alcohol.
Tome warned those in attendance about different inhalants — such as paint thinner, glue and nail polish remover — that seem to be prevalent in the younger demographic because of the easy accessibility.
"Two out of the 10 kids who try this will die the first time," she said, citing Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome as the cause.
Abuse: Reisinger moved on to discuss medicine abuse, noting that it's not just prescriptions that guardians have to be aware of.
The majority "of teens say they get the medicine either from home or a friend's home," he said, encouraging them to pay attention to drugs like Oxycontin, codeine and different cough syrups.
"When it comes to things like DayQuil and Robitussin, one of your best bets is to just be aware of what season it is," he said.
Reisinger also discussed heroin, a problem that has become prevalent in York County and statewide.
Pennsylvania is third in the nation, behind California and Illinois, for heroin use, and York County in 2014 was fourth in the state for overall drug overdose death, he said, noting to keep an eye out for shallowness of breath and blue tint to the lips and fingers when trying to identify someone who may be experiencing an overdose.
Presenters also discussed synthetic drugs, which those in attendance said they knew the least about during a poll at the start of the workshop.
They are chemical substances made to mimic other drugs, Tome said. Most common is synthetic marijuana — also called spice and K2 — which is usually a shredded herb substance sprayed with chemicals that will imitate the effects of THC.
Conversation: "Sometimes, normal teenage behavior can be confused with drug use," Reisinger said. "Moodiness, locking themselves in their room — so how do you know? You know your kid more than any person in the entire world. If something seems off, look into it."
He reminded everyone that they are parents first and friends second.
"This is not an easy conversation, nor is it a one-time conversation," Tome said.
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.