ARLINGTON – JUUL is the newest USB thumb drive, marijuana use is on the rise among adolescents in Snohomish County, and Snapchat is the most popular social media among teens.
As parents learned at an “Empowering Parents” forum Wednesday hosted by the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition, those statements – while good guesses – are false.
Truth is, Juuls are the newest type of electronic cigarettes in the teen vaping world that look like a USB device, survey results show marijuana use among teens is on the decline, and resourceful kids have moved on from Snapchat, infiltrated by nosy parents, to YouTube.
The purpose of the forum at Arlington High School’s Byrnes Performing Arts Center was to provide parents with empowering information, tips and tools to combat teen drug use that they could use and share with others.
Snohomish Health District officials presented the latest information about vaping, marijuana and opioid misuse countywide, an Arlington police officer offered advice about social media and monitoring their children’s online interactions and a panel of public safety, health and intervention experts.
The rise in vaping is alarming, Jennifer Reid, healthy communities specialist with the health district, told the 50 people at the forum.
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, or vaporized nicotine, produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.
“Vaping is out of control, especially among teens,” Reid said. “Vaping is everywhere, in hallways, bathrooms, on the bus and in the classrooms behind your backs.”
Among statistics cited in the countywide Healthy Youth Survey, from 2016-2018, students who had tried e-cigarettes or a vape pen in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades increased by 19%, 35% and 48% respectively. When looking at those same groups, current users climbed by 10%, 23% and 30%.
Kathy Ehman, Arlington Public Schools assistant superintendent, said rates of student vaping in the district closely mirror national rates. Among AHS 10th graders, 21% said they had used a vaping device, compared to 13% in 2016’s youth survey. Of those who have tried it, four times as many 10th graders chose to vape instead of smoke cigarettes, wrongly believing that vaping is safer, but unaware much of the vape liquid can be laced with THC or contain other harmful and toxic chemicals.
Ehman said that with two months left in the school year, the district has disciplined 60 students for vaping, compared with 50 last year.
AHS Principal Duane Fish said while the district is fortunate to have valuable intervention resources, he doesn’t understand why communities aren’t more alarmed about the dangers of vaping.
“Vaping is an unregulated industry, and all this nicotine pumping into our teenagers and their developing brains is not a good thing at all,” he said.
Fish said their job is to prepare students for their next steps in life, career ready.
“If they’re going to get there, we can’t have these substances impeding their decision-making and their learning,” he said.
AHS intervention specialist Rhonda Moen provides group, family and individual counseling. She said it’s important for parents to talk to their children about vaping and other illicit activities, and get to the root of what they get out of it. She credited ALATEEN for meeting with high schoolers who have addiction in their family, which has drawn between 18 and 35 kids for meetings.
Reid said many parents don’t know that their teens are vaping, and they may not know what the devices look like, Reid said. Vape devices can often look like regular pens, or highlighters.
The newest and most-popular vaping product is the JUUL, a subtle design similar to a USB thumb drive that makes it easy to hide.
JUUL products contain a high dose of nicotine, with one pod or flavor cartridge containing the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, or about 200 puffs, Reid said. The colorful designs suggest the rechargeable units are targeting youth.
Vaping statistics are probably understated because they don’t factor in the JUUL as a vaping device because of its delivery system, Reid said.
High schools across the county have reported a substantial increase in disciplinary actions related to the JUUL this school year.
“I plug (the JUUL) into a laptop before my presentations, and ask parents to find it,” Reid said. “No one ever finds it. Teachers can think it’s a wireless or USB device.”
Marijuana use among teens appears to be going down around the county.
In the 2018 survey, 10% of 8th graders, 27% of 10th graders and 42% of 12th graders said they had tried marijuana, which was lower than 2016 results.
Reid pointed out that today marijuana is much more potent – 40% THC concentration – than back in the 1970s, when the figure was about 3%.
Edibles are an issue, too, since the effects can take two or three hours to occur, and people may ingest more in the meantime trying to reach a high. “Three hours later they’re out of their minds high” and going to the emergency room, she said.
If you’re a parent, you need to be communicating what the rules of marijuana are, why it’s dangerous for teens to be using, and what your expectations are, she said.
“Nicotine damages a teen’s brain, the prefrontal cortex” in charge of abstract thinking and regulating behavior, Reid said. “It’s one of the last areas of the brain to develop.”
Heroin, fentanyl and other opioids are at epidemic levels, said Pia Sampaga-Khim, healthy communities specialist in Opioid Prevention and Outreach for SHD. She talked about the origins of opioids such as morphine, codeine, Oxycodone, heroin, synthetic opiates and the negative impacts they bring.
She said the drugs in illicit or prescription form block pain and induce euphoria, but the more dependent a person becomes, their tolerance increases so the need for more drugs leads to addiction.
In 2017, heroin overtook prescription overdoses. Now, synthetics such as fentanyl are taking the lead among opioid-related deaths in the county, with the drug showing up in heroin, methamphetamine and counterfeit pills laced with it. A mere 3 milligrams of fentanyl can kill an adult, and it’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“A majority of overdoses are because of fentanyl-laced drugs,” Sampaga-Khim said. “Back in June and July we saw a huge spike in overdoses; that’s how we knew it had become a problem in Snohomish County.”
Sampaga-Khim said by age category, overdoses are happening primarily between 21-40 year olds.
Early signs of potential substance abuse among teens include poor academic performance, changes in mood and behavior, physical changes and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Sampaga-Khim said what parents can do is start the conversation early about drug use, discuss expectations, be honest about past drug use, be an advocate for their teens, become educated about the various drugs, and encourage positive activities and involvement.
Arlington officer Stephanie Ambrose said in order to keep children safe, parents need to be savvy about social media because it’s how teens communicate. Parents also need to know where they’re chatting, who they’re befriending online, and whether they have any secret accounts parents don’t know about.
Ambrose said kids have moved on from Instagram and Snapchat over to YouTube because parents caught onto them.
When it comes to enforcing rules they violate involving social media safety, she said seize the smart phone.
“You take that phone from them, they are cut off, their life is basically over at that point,” Ambrose said. She agreed with one parent’s idea in the audience to unplug and take the wireless router to bed at night.
AHS student and Arlington Youth Council chairwoman Grace Williams said it’s true that when parents get into young people’s space online, they will migrate.
“We’re going to go on to many other things, and we will find wi-fi, I can assure you that much,” she said.
Ambrose emphasized that that when parents give smart phones to their kids, it needs to come with expectations that it belongs to the parents, and can be accessed by them at any time. Same goes with teens’ bedrooms where protecting the home and family privacy is concerned.
“It is not a child’s Fourth Amendment constitutional right for you to have an illegal search and seizure in your own home,” Ambrose said. “The Fourth Amendment extends from government to people. It is not from parent to child. It is your room. It is not theirs, and that doesn’t change after they turn the golden age of 18.”
She recommended parents set aside social family time where all devices are put away, including parents’. Game nights are a good idea for creating social interaction with teens.
A Healthy Options Fair was part of the forum, featuring exhibits and staff from over a dozen health-related agencies. Arlington Youth Council members provided a teen perspective on the issues.
Weston High School Principal Will Nelson said parents can contact lawmakers to change or add laws that make it harder for kids to get access to illicit drugs and alcohol. The state Legislature and governor raised the smoking and vaping age to 21 in a bill that will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
“Have an honest conversation with kids about vaping, tobacco and alcohol,” he said.
Health District: What parents can do about vaping and Juul use
* Secure all e-juice and nicotine-containing products to avoid underage access. Nicotine is especially toxic to young children.
* Talk to your kids about how addictive nicotine is, and about the consequences of long-term tobacco use.
* Even e-juice labeled “nicotine-free” often still contains nicotine and can be addicting.