NILES — Sometimes signs of drug abuse are hiding in plain sight.
That pop can or candle on your teenager’s dresser could have a false bottom used to conceal a kid’s stash. A felt pen might open to reveal a small marijuana pipe inside.
And a paper towel roll stuffed with dryer sheets doesn’t mean your kid likes his room to smell like fresh laundry, according to Gretchen Nachazel, a prevention specialist who was part of “Drugs 101: What Parents Want To Know” Saturday at Niles High School.
Nachazel and Cheryl Phillips, from the St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, took part in the educational event sponsored by the “Voice. Change. Hope. Alliance” to alert parents and other community members to the signs of substance abuse. It was their first event in Berrien County.
The presentation included a display of a typical teenager’s room, scattered with obvious, and not-so-obvious, clues that drug abuse is happening.
The paper towel roll filled with dryer sheets is used to absorb the smell of marijuana, Nachazel informed about 25 people who attended the event.
“You’d be amazed at how effective this is,” she said.
A bottle of eye drops could mean that the young person is using them to hide the red eyes that are often accompanied by smoking pot and other drugs. Even that innocent-looking bag of hard candy could be an accessory to taking ecstasy, which causes the user to grind their teeth, the experts said.
In all, the mock room contained more than 70 drug-related items.
These signs, along with changes in behavior, appearance and other attributes, could be a tip-off that things are not right, they said.
The women went over a gamut of drugs, from prescription pain pills, to marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, to lesser-known but equally dangerous substances such as bath salts.
Today’s marijuana is much more potent than the pot available 15 or 20 years ago, Phillips said.
Users can boil down marijuana into a wax-like purified THC, the active ingredient in pot, for an even stronger high.
Some people even try to get a buzz from powdered caffeine, which Phillips said can be highly toxic, or even life-threatening, if taken in high doses.
The presentation included a panel discussion with state Rep. Al Pscholka, Berrien County Chief Judge Gary Bruce, Niles police officer Kevin Koston and Robin Ross, whose son is a recovering addict.
Pscholka said that, when he was growing up, a party meant stealing a few bottles of Stroh’s beer from his grandfather’s refrigerator.
Today, kids are going to “pharm parties,” where stolen pills are dumped in a bowl and passed around and swallowed, often without the person knowing what they have taken, he said.
That’s what happened at a New Year’s Eve party Dec. 31, 2014, when Mason Mizwicki, a 16-year-old Watervliet High honor student and varsity football player, overdosed.
His friends did not pick up the phone and call for help because they were afraid they would get in trouble, Pscholka said. As a result, the student died.
In response, Pscholka sponsored and helped pass a Good Samaritan bill that shields those under 21 from prosecution on prescription drug-related charges if they report an overdose.
Exactly a year after Mizwicki’s death, the same situation occurred at another New Year’s Eve party. Only, this time, the young woman’s friends had learned about the Good Samaritan law from Facebook and called for help, saving her life, Pscholka said.
With the success of the measure, legislation will be introduced next week to extend it to all age groups, Pscholka announced.
Prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in this country, the Stevensville lawmaker said, noting that the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 80 percent of the prescription drugs.
“We’re poisoning ourselves,” Pscholka said.
The prescription drug epidemic has led to a resurgence in heroin use, with pill addicts turning to the drug when they can no longer obtain pain pills.
Those prescription pills are being stolen right out of the medicine cabinets of homes, Nachazel said. She said a real estate agent told her that people were stealing pills during open houses.
Saturday’s event included a prescription pill drop-off site, to encourage residents to dispose of their unneeded drugs, said Michigan State Police Lt. Melinda Logan, co-moderator with Berrien County Sheriff’s Deputy Kelly Laesch.
Logan said the “Voice. Change. Hope. Alliance” is working with Lakeland Health to educate doctors abut the importance of monitoring how they prescribe pain pills.
Judge Bruce talked about the success of Berrien County’s drug court in providing treatment and counseling as an alternative to jail for drug users.
Robin Ross said her son was successful in his attempt to get clean from drugs when he found transitional housing in the Ann Arbor area.
He is also working with a crisis center that provides support for those looking to recover, something he thinks is needed in Berrien County, Ross said.
The “Voice. Change. Hope. Alliance” was founded by St. Joseph resident Carol Stockman after her 25-year-old grandson died of a heroin overdose.
Pscholka expressed confidence that Stockman would continue to further the conversation on this issue.
The “Drugs 101” program is scheduled to be repeated Oct. 15 at Lakeshore High School.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak