Drugs and Youth Trends in North Carolina Counties

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As a parent and in my work with young people I believe it is important to stay up to date on what is trending and influencing our school aged children and teens, especially how teens are using drugs and alcohol. As parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens of Lee County you need this information because with knowledge comes power and a responsibility to grow successful and healthy adults for tomorrow. Recently, John Dale, a certified substance abuse counselor from Coastal Horizon Center specializing in prevention and drug treatment services, gave a talk on Drug Trends in NC. In a single year he will assess more than a hundred young people all over North Carolina who are seeking substance abuse counseling. What he had to say was interesting and quite alarming.

While OxyContin and Percocet are the most commonly abused opioids in teen circles, there are many counterfeit drugs on the streets and most likely in our schools. In one N.C. county, two teenagers were hanging out smoking a marijuana “blunt” secretly laced with Fentanyl. They were found dead the next morning. Drugs like Fentanyl and Codeine can be purchased cheaply and easily off the internet from China with a credit card or bitcoin and Fentanyl is fifty times stronger than heroin. Also found in counterfeit drugs is Carfentanil (an analog of Fentanyl) which is an anesthetic used by veterinarians while operating on large animals. The lethal dose for humans is two milligrams or about the size of Lincoln’s ear on a penny. These drugs are shipped in boxes disguised as cell phones or other items commonly ordered by teens. Scarily, for a few thousand dollars, a drug dealer can purchase industrial pill press machines and make thousands of counterfeit pills that look exactly like the real thing in about half a day. The unpredictability of ingredients, potency, and side effects in counterfeit pills and vape products being used by our teens is hugely concerning. Pills are often laced with substances intended to quickly force dependence and addiction. Vape liquids can have substances like Vitamin E Acetate which was never intended to be inhaled, and when heated, vape liquids can break down the metal in the pens in turn causing users to inhale these metal particles.

 When drugs are confiscated by law enforcement they are sent to labs to test the potency. Back in the 1970s, smokable marijuana had a potency of 1.3% THC and this year’s average potency was measured at a much higher 12.5% THC. Vaping is the new way to consume marijuana for teens to avoid detection. Vape pens use “dabs” in the forms of wax, shatter, live resin, and oil. THC potency in these forms is an incredibly high 80-90%. Currently doctors are seeing increased insomnia, headaches, agitation, and irritation from those trying to quit with side effects lasting thirty to forty-five days after ending consumption.

 K2 or Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid that is causing kidney damage. Thankfully, teens are reporting they will only try this once or twice because the paranoia and hallucinations are long-lasting, ten hours later they are still feeling the effects. This chemical is made in a lab and put in a vape liquid or sprayed onto dried plant material and then smoked.

 A common occurrence at teen and college parties is a purple substance called Lean, where consumers have to lean against the wall because they cannot stand up unassisted. Also called purple drank, sizzurp, syrup, drank, barre, purple jelly, texas tea, and tsikuni; this drink is made up of prescription strength cough syrup poured into sprite or mountain dew with several pieces of jolly ranchers added to cut the bite. If you encounter colored Sprite you should remember Sprite is clear and explore further. This drink has a multiplying effect when mixed with alcohol. In one county a youth shared that they used to pass this drink around the school bus on the way to middle school. Anytime you notice a young person sharing their water bottle, pay attention to the face of the one drinking. If they make a strange expression it is possible the water has a dose of Xanax dissolved into it, the kids call this xanny juice.

Many young adults in North Carolina consider themselves healthy and all natural. It is currently trendy to use the following legal forms of psychotropics labeled “natural”, but they are still drugs. One is an all-natural substance called Khat, grown in East Africa and Southern Arabia. In leaf form it is treated like chewing tobacco and stimulates dopamine in the brain. It has a synthetic form commonly called “bath salts” that made the news several years ago. There is a Kratom tree that grows in Indonesia. The tree’s leaves are dried and made into a powder which can be put into pill capsules or made into tea. In low doses it acts like a stimulant and in high doses it acts like an opioid. Kava is an extract from a plant grown in the pacific islands and is sold in health food stores for nausea, however, it acts like alcohol when consumed in greater quantities. Bars will sell these drugs in teas and all three can cause liver damage. 

 It is important to educate our youth on what the appropriate and prescribed uses for medications are. 65% of teen users report getting prescription strength pain relievers from parents and friends and these pills are shared freely or sold for a few dollars. A couple of ways we can reduce this percentage is by using lockable medication boxes and disposing of unused portions at drop-off locations. In Lee County that would be at Medicine Park Pharmacy, Walgreens Store on South Horner Boulevard, and the Sheriff’s Office. Do not flush them down the toilet. North Carolina 4-H thinks this is important too and they have several education programs to empower our youth to make better choices. One is an elementary and middle school enrichment program called Health Rocks and another is our Empowering Youth and Families Programs. For more information about these and other 4-H programs please contact me at pkerley@ncsu.edu.