BRATTLEBORO >> On Tuesday evening, Sept. 6, Brattleboro Union High School will host a program for adults who have teenagers in their lives, to help the adults become more aware of current drug trends in the community as well as indications that teens may be engaging in substance abuse, self-harm, or unsafe sex.
Hanako Jones, Student Assistance Program Counselor at BUHS, explained that Melissa Ferdinand will present "High and Seek," an interactive presentation featuring a mockup of a teenager's bedroom.
"Throughout it are these things that would indicate risky behavior," Jones said. "Any one of these items is not anything to worry about, but several of these signs should elicit some questions from parents.
"Signs could be something as simple as a pencil sharpener that doesn't have a blade in it — the teen could be self-harming — or as obvious as paraphernalia — which isn't always that obvious," she continued. "A sheet of metal the size of a credit card with a butterfly design in it was a grater for pot. I'd never seen anything like that before, and I've been around the block a few times."
On Sept. 6, the doors of the BUHS Multi-Purpose Room will open at 6 for the 6:30 p.m. presentation, giving adults (attendance is limited to those over 21) a half hour to look through the room.
"It's a scavenger hunt of sorts — that's where the interactivity comes in," Jones said. "This is not encouraging parents or adults to rummage through their kids' rooms, but if you're in there changing sheets or doing laundry and you find that little nail or something in their pocket, or If you find a quarter that's burned, you'll know that something might be up."
She explained that nails and coins can be used for "dabbing" — flaming a small amount of very potent marijuana product in order to inhale it. She noted that modern marijuana products are "incredibly powerful.
"For comparison, pot in the 70s was 2 percent to 5 percent potency," she explained. "Hash oil was 60 percent to 70 percent potency. Butane-extracted marijuana product can be up to 95 percent THC [the hallucinogen in marijuana], and so it can cause significant hallucination, not paralysis necessarily but difficulty moving, and sometimes disassociation — losing touch with reality, not knowing what's going on. These are obviously not effects that we associate with 'normal' bud or flower marijuana.
"We're seeing things like addiction," she went on, "whereas in the 60s if someone said they were addicted to pot you would laugh them out the door."
Drug use is widespread among Windham County teens, according to an anonymous survey.
"In the 2014 -15 school year, in Windham County, 30 percent of students reported using marijuana within the last 30 days, as opposed to the 22 percent statewide average," Jones reported. "We have a culture of leniency about pot in this area. While it could be used medically, not everyone who's using it is prescribed it, so it's like using my friend's Adderall when it's not prescribed for me.
"The use of e-cigarettes is on the rise," she added. "There's been no oversight until recently. A lot of students claim that it's for the flavor, and that they are not using nicotine, but there has been no FDA oversight, so they could have been using nicotine, which is addictive."
One bright spot in the survey is that the number of students who reported misusing prescription drugs has decreased from the last two years, and the number of students who report having used heroin is too small to be statistically significant.
At the Sept. 6 presentation, Ferdinand will offer help to parents who may become concerned about their teens' behaviors.
"At the end of the presentation Melissa gives them a little sheet with tools for how to talk with their teenager about this stuff — how to introduce the subject," Jones said. "It's a two-hour presentation, because she's going through all these signs of risky behaviors as well as giving parents some tools and ideas for how to discuss this with their kids."
In her role as Student Assistance Program Counselor, Jones helps students with all sorts of issues in addition to concerns about their or their friends' problems with substances.
"My work overlaps that of other counselors," Jones explained. "Other school counselors work with scheduling, college preparation and application procedures and personal counseling. More of my focus is social- emotional health, for peer issues like bullying, peer pressure, or if students are having trouble managing the daily stress of school, a job, or home. I also run groups around those issues.
"Conflicts with teachers, problems with boyfriends or girlfriends — I can see anyone for anything," she concluded. "My door's always open. People just come in. There doesn't need to be any referral — I can talk to anyone in the school, and I do."
There is no need to register for the presentation, which is open to adults 21 years or older. For more information, contact email@example.com.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.