Parents learn signs of teen drinking, drug use

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Think you know what your kids are up to? Think again, officials say.

Teenagers can be quite savvy when it comes to hiding things from their parents. And that’s why it’s vital for parents and others to be in the know.

“Our goal is to empower families and people who work with youth to help you start that conversation,” said Jennifer McLean, substance use prevention specialist with the Poe Center, a nonprofit. “We are here to bridge that gap.”

On Wednesday, several parents and educators attended a program called “Drugs Uncovered: What Parents and Other Adults Need to Know.”

The program, which was held at Fike High School, centered on helping adults stay up to date on current trends regarding alcohol, drugs and technology.

The Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition sponsored the free program, which was put on by the Poe Center. Leaders spoke about various issues including parental responsibility as well as giving adults techniques for creating an open dialogue with youth about illicit substances.

“You are hear to learn,” McLean said. “Immerse yourself into teen culture. Keep up with the trends.”

She said teens have ways of hiding drug and alcohol use. She said it’s important for parents to learn the signs and to sit down and talk with their children about the dangers of substance use disorders.

McLean said parents should stay up to date on how teens talk with each other via text messages because sometimes it can look nearly impossible to decipher. She gave resources to help parents translate those texts so that they can stay informed. She also made parents aware of sneaky smartphone apps that mask the use of other apps.

McLean said research shows that kids want to hear about the dangers of alcohol and drugs from their parents.

“It’s amazing what they already know,” she said.

Officials discussed a variety of topics including tobacco use, alcohol and drugs. She also said the trend in electronic cigarettes is also causing alarm.

Research shows that teens are more likely to use an electronic cigarette than a regular cigarette. She said most young people who “vape” don’t even realize how much nicotine is in the electronic cigarette or nicotine vaporizer.

Officials say roughly 33 percent of high school students reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. And more than 90 percent of that alcohol is being consumed in drinking binges.

While it’s illegal to drink alcohol under the age of 21, youths and young adults ages 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the country, officials said.

The state and nation are also facing an epidemic regarding drug overdose deaths. Heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2012 to 2015 and the death rate for prescription opioid overdoses doubled over the same time frame, according to statistics.

And more than 45 percent of North Carolina high school students reported that they obtained alcohol by someone else giving it to them.

Those in attendance also took part in an interactive program where they had to uncover dozens of obvious and discreet signs of substance use in a mock teenage bedroom. Alcohol and drug paraphernalia were hiding in plain sight. Officials showed parents and educators what’s trending when it comes to hiding the evidence. And most items can be purchased online.

A yellow highlighter that sat on a desk was revealed to be a marijuana pipe once the cap was removed. An innocent-looking bright green glove lying on the bed was actually a flask. A flashy watch had a dual purpose — once the face was unscrewed, it acts as a marijuana grinder. What appeared to be an empty water bottle had a secret compartment hidden to the naked eye unless someone knows what to look for.

Officials said they hope by showing these examples, parents will look closer at what their children are getting into and also prevent them from becoming a statistic.

Tiphnie Wells, who is a middle school teacher, said she has previous experience in mental health and social work. She said she signed up for Wednesday’s program due to the ages she works with.

“I thought this would be a really good program,” she said.