April 4, 2023 at 3:39 p.m.
During March 22 Albany schools presentation,
adults encouraged to know the facts
Education is the best tool for combating vaping and drug use among youth.
That was the primary message during a March 22 Albany Police Department and Albany Area Public Schools presentation attended by close to 35 students, parents and community members at the school in Albany.
Information was presented by Allison Dudek, from Stearns County Human Services; and Dan Greenwald and Joel Schmidt, from the Central Minnesota Violent Offender Task Force.
Vaping, smoking of e-cigarettes and drug use is appearing at area schools. Dudek gave a quick overview of the 20-year-old history of vaping, which has users using battery operated vaping devices to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that users inhale. The products are marketed with youth in mind, she said.
“The products now use nicotine salts, which come from the tobacco leaf,” Dudek said. “Those salts deliver an addictive dose of nicotine to the user’s brain faster without the harsh experience they have from inhaling the cigarette smoke.”
Some of the more common brands of vaping products can contain from 15 to 25 times the amount of nicotine than a pack of cigarettes, according to Dudek’s information. In the last decade, there has been an increase in use of non-smoking products with synthetic nicotine.
Nicotine is not the only substance being inhaled when using vaping products, according to Dudek. Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are used as solvent carriers for the flavor and nicotine.
“Usually those items are regarded as safe by the FDA, when used in foods and cosmetics. When heated in the vape, they can turn into formaldehyde and 100-plus other compounds with toxic properties,” she said.
During the presentation there were samples of vaping devices that had been confiscated at schools. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping devices are not to be used by or sold to minors. But with products being easy to hide, and not having the odor associated with cigarette smoking, they are used by students.
“The manufacturers are creating products that look like they should be in a kid’s backpack,” Dudek said. “Many look like highlighters, pens, gums or mints.”
As with any product, there are marketing campaigns to promote their use. Youth are a target of some campaigns.
“Unlike regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes don’t have the same regulations for marketing,” Dudek said. “So the manufacturers target youth.”
Much like cigarette promotions 30 or 40 years ago, celebrities are hired for promotional advertising. Social media is another avenue of promotion.
Studies have shown there is an increase among young teens trying the product.
Sgt. Matt Gannon, Stearns County resource officer at Albany schools, who attended the meeting, confirmed products are being used in schools. Generally, use is among middle school and older students.
“The bathrooms are the hot spots,” he said. “We don’t see a lot of it in elementary schools, but it is popping up in elementary schools from time to time.”
It was noted students are aware they should not be using the products and do their best to not be observed vaping.
“We have seen it on camera,” Gannon said. “At lunch time they go to the bathrooms, and as soon as we leave the cafeteria, they are out of the bathroom.”
Some school districts have installed vape detectors that help catch some students who are vaping.
Use of the vape devices does not result in a criminal charge, according to Gannon. There can be suspensions and detentions.
“If we have repeat offenders, there are county programs we can refer them to,” Gannon said, adding, “usually, they are not just vaping, they are involved in other things as well.”
Greenwald and Schmidt reported on drug use trends they are seeing.
“This stuff leaks down to the schools,” Schmidt said.
Greenwald said there is more than just marijuana being used in schools. They were not specific about which drugs had been found in which schools, but felt it is only a matter of time before more drugs become prevalent in the area.
“We haven’t had fentanyl or heroin issues at the school, but students admit to using Molly, LSD, mushrooms and some kids are dabbling with cocaine,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald and Schmidt’s presentation included information on drugs and paraphernalia found in central Minnesota. They work in Morrison, Stearns, Sherburn and Benton counties.
With proposed state legislation to decriminalize and legalize some marijuana use, they see it being more available. That does not change Greenwald’s view of marijuana as a gateway drug.
“I’ve been doing law enforcement for 30 years and on the task force for better than 15 years. Anyone who says marijuana is not the first thing they (youth) are experimenting with is out of their minds,” Greenwald said.
Marijuana depends on tetrahydrocannabinol to create its effects. Since the 1970s, plants have been developed with increased THC in the plant. With the ability to extract THC from the plant, there are now cereals, candies, jerky, chips and other products containing the product.
The quality of THC in edibles is nothing compared to what marijuana used to be,” Greenwald said. “It’s eating something four to five times stronger than in the 1970s.”
Fentanyl concerns were an important part of their presentation. The drug is highly addictive and affordably made. Some drugs sell for more than $100 a pound, while fentanyl can be purchased for $2 or $3 for an aspirin-size pill.
“Heroin has been replaced by fentanyl,” Greenwald said. “It’s cheaper, more addictive and the (state) statutes have not yet caught up with the drug.”
By that he meant currently there is less of a penalty for selling and possessing fentanyl than heroin, methamphetamines and other illegal drugs. Like other opioids, people can take fentanyl in different ways, but eventually most people inject the drug. As the body builds a tolerance to the drug, people seek to get the high feeling sooner and stronger.
Because production is not controlled by a lab, there is no quality control on how much of the drug is in one pill. This can lead to overdoses. To combat overdoses, law enforcement officers carry Narcan, a registered medication designed to reverse effects of an opioid overdose.
Gannon said he carries Narcan and expects it will become among the tools schools use to combat drug overdoses. He said currently communities, in general, are always playing catch-up when dealing with issues associated with vaping and drugs, and he felt the March 22 presentation was a step in the right direction.
“Nobody in the world seems to have a grip on what we can do, other than educate and get kids to realize what this stuff does to their body,” Gannon said.
To some degree, education appears to be working. A 2022 Minnesota Student survey, which recorded students saying they are becoming dependent on vaping, had good news.
“On a positive note, the 2022 Minnesota Student survey showed a drastic decline in vaping, so we are hopeful,” Dudek said. “There is hope that students are starting to realize vaping is not the best option for them.”
Dudek and Gannon said parents and adults have roles to play in combating the rise of vaping and drug use and encouraged adults to let youth know they are there to help them. Gannon said he has had students approach him asking for help, most wanting their parents involved.
Dudek highlighted the need for parents to get educated on vaping and drugs so they can talk about them with their children.
“As a community member, parent or teacher, you have to be there to let them know you have the facts for them,” she said.