As a parent, if I find a vape, what should I do? Is there a smell I should look for? How big of a problem is drug use, really?
These are questions asked during a Facebook Live event Oct. 23 hosted by the Papillion Police Department and Papillion La Vista Community Schools. The event was called “Drugs, Vaping and Teenagers,” and it was meant to educate parents and address questions or concerns they had about drug use.
Drug abuse and overdose deaths over the past few years have frequently made national headlines as opioids, particularly synthetics like fentanyl, led to around 72,000 deaths, a record, in 2017, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control.
It’s an issue that President Donald Trump declared a national health emergency in 2017, and the PPD Facebook event brought the issue closer to home for PLCS parents.
Jobi Drefs, a drug recognition expert with PPD and a school resource officer at Papillion-La Vista South High School, led the presentation, which touched on the types of drugs teenagers were using, signs or symptoms of drug use parents could look for and ways they could prevent abuse. Andy Mahan, the SRO at Papillion-La Vista High School, also helped with the presentation.
The SROs described drug use and abuse as “indiscriminate,” affecting every social clique, extracurricular activity and income level.
Drefs said depressants, like alcohol or Xanax, cannabis and tobacco products like vapes and Juul e-cigarettes are the trendy drugs for teenagers.
Tobacco products in particular are popular, she said.
“It’s the new gateway drug.”
More than 1 in 3 high school students used an electronic vapor product in their lifetime, with 9.4 percent saying they had used in the past 30 days, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Nebraska Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, making vaping the most popular tobacco product. Cigarettes were the second most popular.
Opioids and other prescriptions are abused and get into the hands of teenagers a number of ways, Drefs said, ranging from prescriptions after wisdom teeth are pulled or sports injuries to painkillers prescribed after “mommy makeovers.”
“Opioids in Papillion, Sarpy County? You betcha,” she said.
Nebraska had escaped the brunt of the opioid epidemic, but the CDC estimates show Nebraska’s overdose deaths increased between 40 and 50 percent from 2016 to 2017, among the highest in the country.
About 1 in 16 high school students took prescription pain medication with a doctor’s prescription or differently than how a doctor told them to use it in the past 30 days, according to the 2017 YRBS report, with 1 in 7 doing so during their lifetime.
Drefs, Mahan and two counselors from PLCS answered questions after the presentation and offered parents tips on how to monitor or intervene if a child is using drugs. Monitoring web search history and social media accounts, sitting in their kids’ vehicles, locking up and keeping tabs on prescriptions and asking questions in a caring manner were all useful strategies, she said.
“You’re their parent, not their best friend,” Drefs said. “It’s a hard job but you’re not their friend.”
Drug abuse arrests in Sarpy County were up more than 30 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the Nebraska Crime Commission. Adult arrests were up 22 percent while juvenile arrests increased 67 percent from 170 to 284, the highest on record.
In an interview, Papillion Police Chief Scott Lyons attributed the rise in drug abuse arrests to the nationwide opioid crisis, legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and overall societal shifts about drug use.
“That’s not something this community is familiar with,” he said.