E-cigarettes, or vaporizer pens, now have a thriving, growing and vulnerable new market here in Broward County and greater South Florida. Teens looking to experiment with drugs are increasingly using these battery-operated devices, often touted as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, to vape synthetic substances like flakka (an amphetamine-like drug similar to bath salts) and various forms of “legal weed” (such as K2 and Spice). And that has local law enforcement and health officials worried. Inhaling liquid nicotine is one thing, but vaping other less familiar and potentially more dangerous substances is another, they say. And parents of teens — especially — need to be on the alert.
Teen Vaping Abuse — 4 Things Every Parent Needs to Know
On that note, here’s what every parent needs to know about the dangers of this latest trend:
- Inhaling from a vaporizer enhances a drug user’s high and can amplify a drug’s side effects. That’s because “it delivers a far more potent form of whatever drug is being used,” according to substance abuse expert Dr. James Hall in a recent interview with WSVN-TV. Dr. Hall is an epidemiologist and co-directs the Center for Applied Research on Substance Abuse and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University, just down the road (Miami).
- The chemicals in synthetic drugs are dangerous and potentially fatal in cases of overdose. So far this year, in Broward County alone, 33 people have died from synthetic drug overdoses. And since January, dozens and dozens of medical emergencies related to Spice and other forms of “legal weed” have turned up at hospitals across the state of Florida. Only just a few years ago, synthetic marijuana, euphemistically termed “herbal incense,” became an instant hit in South Florida. But the reality is that “these products are chemicals that are sprayed onto plant material,” in Dr. Hall’s words to WSVN-TV.
- Vaping synthetic drugs is more discreet than other forms of drug abuse. Because e-cigarettes can resemble everyday ballpoint pens or USB memory sticks, they are easy to hide. As Lt. Ozzy Tianga of our local Broward County Sheriff’s Office recently told CNN, these pen vaporizers can easily become a checked-out teen’s escape in class. If calculus or a discussion of Shakespeare’s Macbeth proves thoroughly uninteresting, drug-using teens can reach for their “ballpoint pen” without raising any eyebrows.
In addition, e-cigarettes are odorless, making it nearly impossible to determine the drug in use (which is an urgent necessity in cases of overdose). Here is Lt. Tianga again, in that same interview with CNN, talking about a phenomenon he observes among teens who abuse e-cigarettes: “They sit in the back of the [class]room, and they think it’s funny…. They are vaping, and what they are vaping — again — I cannot determine. From the smell I cannot determine. I actually have to get the pen out of their hand and there are very few field test kits that will tell you exactly what they are vaping.”
- E-cigarettes and pen vaporizers are easy to acquire for underage users. So are flakka and legal weed. While it may be true that Miami-Dade and Broward counties have ordinances making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to those under 18, these regulations do little to prevent teens from buying the devices online. A bewildering online selection of vaping and legal weed paraphernalia makes it easy for anyone, regardless of age, to order their own and have them conveniently delivered, no questions asked. In just one year’s time, for example, the number of teens using e-cigarettes has more than tripled, according to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Similarly, flakka and various forms of legal weed are easy for teens to acquire. Flakka, for instance, is only $5 a pop, and has seen a 780% increase in usage in the last three years alone. And a recent Business Insider report details how the deadly drug has now hit the streets of Miami-Dade County in a new form: gummy bears.
Signs of Vaping Abuse and What Parents Can Do
Parents can be on the alert for signs of vaping abuse. Specifically, parents can:
- Watch for physiological symptoms and side effects that may indicate their teen has a vaping abuse problem. These can include dry mouth syndrome, nosebleeds and strange, erratic and even violent behavior.
- Familiarize themselves with what e-cigarettes look like and how the devices work, so that they are able to identify them in the hands of their teens. E-cigarettes consist of: a cartridge, which holds a liquid solution (be it nicotine or something else); a heating device (vaporizer); and a power source (usually a battery). Typically, puffing an e-cigarette activates the vaporizer, which allows a user to inhale the resulting aerosol or vapor.
If any of the above signs is present, parents have good reason to suspect their teen is vaping synthetic drugs, in which case they should connect their child with treatment resources that can help —before it’s potentially too late.