By Dedra Cordle
‘Is he high?’ Cynthia Brown wondered as she observed the behavior of her teenager’s childhood friend during a celebratory event.
‘He couldn’t be,’ she told herself. ‘After all, they were just in my house before I brought them here and I would have smelled it a mile away.’
But the suspicion lingered in the back of her head and she later confronted her child about their friend’s behavior.
“They told me that he got high using a vape devise,” she said. “I never would have imagined you could smoke marijuana without it giving off that distinctive smell.”
Brown, a resident of Grove City who requested that her last name be changed, had heard of vaping, of course. She had read about its rise and even spoke with her teen about its dangers, but she wanted to know more. The more she learned, the more concerned she became. And that concern is what brought her and a dozen other parents to Grove City High School on Jan. 16 to listen to a law enforcement presentation on vaping and other drug trends.
“I thought it was important to know what is out there,” said Linda Adams. “If we’re going to protect our kids, we have to be informed.”
The two-hour program, which was a collaborative effort between the school, the South-Western City Schools District and Grove City Police Department, discussed what parents should look out for not just when it comes to vaping but also other drugs.
“The drugs today are different than the drugs that were around when we were kids,” said Sgt. Doug Olmstead.
He said the percentages of THC in marijuana is higher, the designer drugs are more potent and heroin, which is often mixed with fentanyl or carfentanil, is deadlier.
“Heroin is a terrible monster,” he said.
As is the case with most communities across the country, heroin or other opioid related abuses have made their way to Grove City.
“In 2016, we had 34 drug overdoses in Grove City. In 2017 it was 95 and we cut that number in half in 2018,” he said. “When it comes to drug related deaths, we had five in 2016, 14 in 2017 and only three in 2018. And it’s hard to say ‘only three’ because that it way too many.
“These are our friends, our neighbors. It’s our community.”
Olmstead said one of the reasons why heroin and other opioids have had such a foothold in the community is because of its location.
“The central Ohio region is one of the busiest in the country when it comes to transporting drugs,” he said. “That is due in part to Columbus being located within a short distance to major cities like Chicago and New York. These drugs come to Grove City because Grove City is a part of Columbus.”
He said it has been immensely hard to combat the multi-faceted drug problem in the city but there has been a decline in the number of drug related crimes and abuses.
“Our number one goal is to put a stop to it and the numbers are dropping which makes Grove City special,” said Olmstead. “You see the numbers rising in other areas but ours are declining and that has a lot to do with our SRO’s (School Resource Officers) who are doing a great job with our DARE program, our community members who are working together to fight this problem and our police officers who are tasked with working with loss prevention specialists at our retail stores.”
Officer Brian Kitko later noted the impact his K-9 partner Max has had keeping drugs off the streets.
“He’s been an unbelievable asset,” he said after reporting that Max has assisted with 443 arrests since joining the force three years ago.
But Olmstead said that even though great strides have been made, when it comes to the decline of drug arrests and drug overdoses in the community, they will still find a way into the community and it is up to parents to know what to look for as it pertains to suspicious activity with their kids.
He said when it comes to heroin, some things to look out for are disappearing spoons, or finding needles, aluminum foil, aluminum can bottoms or lighters in bedrooms or in non-common places in the home.
“Lighters may seem like a strange one but most kids today don’t smoke cigarettes,” said Olmstead. “They think it’s a nasty habit so they vape. If they’re not smoking, ask why they have a lighter and ask why they need it.”
When it comes to methamphetamine, Olmstead said parents should look out for severe dental problems that are non-genetic.
“Using meth is like rinsing your mouth with drain cleaner,” he said. “It’s a terrible drug that ages you quickly. So if you notice severe dental issues not related to genetics other otherwise poor hygiene, start questioning.”
As for designer drugs such as bath salts, Olmstead said the first thing to look out for is the purchase of bath salts.
“If we’re talking about teenage boys, most teenage boys don’t like taking baths so ask why they have them.”
He likened bath salts to modern day LSD.
When it comes to cocaine, Olmstead said to be on the lookout for razor blades, glass stems, Chore Boys, rolled up money and one fingernail that is longer than the others.
As for marijuana, Olmstead said parents should look out for grinders, rolling papers, forceps, pipes, bongs or postage scales.
Olmstead said there is much debate about the use of marijuana, whether it be recreationally or medical, but he wanted to stress to parents the dangers of this drug.
“When we were kids, there was a content of 3 to 5 percent THC,” he said. “Now, with these genetically engineered plants, there can be a content of 30 percent THC.”
He noted it can be even higher when used in conjunction with a vape devise.
“Some have 92 percent THC,” he said. “The teenage brain is still developing and they’re ingesting 92 percent THC.”
The sergeant said though there has not been much research done when it comes to the negative effects of vaping, he believes it to be dangerous and harmful.
“You often hear kids talking about how it’s just water vapor but the reality is there is no water in it,” Olmstead said. “What it essentially is an atomizer; it breaks the liquid or material down into a vapor so you’re inhaling very fine particles.”
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years down the road, professional studies were released about a lost generation.
“I think it is going to destroy our kids.”
He said one of the most dangerous aspects about vaping is that the devices can be well hidden (some look like regular pens while others look like USB devices) and there seems to be no slowing down the trend of middle and high schoolers vaping.
“It’s being targeted to our youth,” he said. “The disclaimers may say otherwise, but it’s being targeted at our kids.”
Olmstead said one of the best things parents can do to combat any of these drug uses is to speak with their kids.
“Don’t be a friend, be a parent.”
He said to talk to them, note their behavior, pay attention to marks on their bodies, and look at their phones.
“It’s OK to know their passcodes and to look through their phones.”
He mentioned more resources for parents or those struggling with addiction and recommended parents go to a simulated teen room hosted by HART (Health Awareness & Recovery Together) that is scheduled to be held at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, located at 3005 Holt Road, on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.