By ZAK GRIMM
“Something looks out of place. Something’s not right.” These are thoughts you, as a parent, might have when you begin to suspect that your child or children may be doing drugs or other dangerous behaviors, especially when you take time to look through their personal spaces, like their bedrooms.
But, what might this space look like? What may be hidden within it that can provide clues to dangerous choices? This was the discussion behind a special presentation, called “Hidden in Plain Sight,” for teachers and parents, created by the Knox Substance Abuse Action Team (KSAAT). Team members Cindy Wyatt, Ashley Didinger, Julie McCoy, and Mount Vernon Police Detective James DeChant led the discussion and walk-through of the model bedroom, and officers of the Fredericktown Police Department were also available for questions or concerns.
The KSAAT presentation showcased a live model of a typical teenager’s bedroom, with over 150 items, some commonplace and others unique, that could be either clues pointing toward dangerous or risky behaviors like drug abuse, or actual items used to hide or ingest these substances.
To help KSAAT better serve the county’s communities, all 6th-, 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders around the county are provided with a Pride survey, which allows KSAAT to better understand, thorough 129 questions, the habits and actions of young adults with regard to substance abuse. Results of the Pride surveys show both strengths and concerns within a community’s teenage population, and can help organizations like the Health Department more effectively monitor the health and well-being of its teenagers. Along with Fredericktown School District, Centerburg, Danville, East Knox, the Knox County Career Center, the Knox Learning Center and Mount Vernon City Schools participates in the Pride survey.
According to the most recent Pride Survey conducted within Knox County’s schools, over half of 12th-grade students have consumed alcohol within the last year, and roughly 33% have done so within the last month.
“What is alarming is that, two years ago in 2013, tobacco use was [rated] the highest, followed by marijuana, both in the low teens” said KSAAT member Ashley Didinger. “But, in the past year, marijuana use is up to 31%,” and has overtaken tobacco use in the last month.
According to the surveys done, there is not much difference between genders with respect to both marijuana use and alcohol abuse. Perhaps alarming to some parents, substance abuse typically starts around age 12 or 13.
However, as the KSAAT members cautioned, teenagers are not the only ones capable of substance abuse. It can happen to anyone at any age, including senior citizens.
“It’s never too late to inform yourself and become more aware, which is why we created the Hidden in Plain Sight program,” said Didinger.
KSAAT member Cindy Wyatt took the remainder of the time to walk through the “bedroom” displayed for the teachers and parents, showcasing many of the items, and explaining in detail how each could hint at or directly point to a teenager’s substance abuse problem. Some items, such as deep pockets on shorts or jeans, are perhaps more obvious places to hide drugs and alcohol.
But, even within those everyday items, drugs and alcohol can still be hidden beyond what even a careful parent might find. To that end, Wyatt demonstrated that a simple pair of jeans can have a hiding place, often along a zipper stitch. Additional hard-to-find hiding places on clothing can include a baggie of drugs simply pinned underneath a skirt, hidden under a shirt collar, or just within the hood on a sweatshirt.
For an even more careful teenager, a parent may consider rubber bands on a long-sleeve shirt to be strange, but not necessarily a sign of substance abuse. But, as Wyatt showed, those rubber bands could, in fact, be helping hide baggies of drugs or even a small bottle of alcohol underneath the fabric’s folds. Does your child have a lot of baseball hats in his or her room? They may be hiding cigarettes in the inner lining.
As Wyatt said, teenagers who use these kinds of hiding places often have one of two motives: they’re either hiding it for immediate use, or it’s a safety net for when they’re able to find the privacy to do so.
Beyond concealing substance abuse, your child’s choice of clothing can also offer clues to substance abuse. For example, if your child becomes interested in clothing featuring people like singer Bob Marley, or depicts references to “4/20,” both of these point to likely substance abuse. Sometimes, young adults may hide these clothing items to wear later, away from parents and around friends–from whom they may have even gotten their substance abuse habits.
For a lot of parents, food and/or drinks in a teenager’s room is likely very common. These things, especially, can be definite signs of substance abuse, as well as more discrete places to hide them. Energy drinks, in particular, can be incredibly addictive to teenagers, but also dangerous for their health. According to Wyatt and her teammates, specially-concentrated energy drinks can have as much caffeine as 12 cups of coffee!
Seemingly innocent food, like an apple, can very easily be made into a bong to smoke marijuana. What may pass as merely a forgotten spoon can be an alarming, dangerous sign of methamphetamine abuse, especially if it is blackened from flame.While a blackened spoon is a sign of meth abuse, pieces of foil can be a sign of a possible heroin addiction. In the guise of the most dangerous drugs, needles and syringes can be hidden underneath rugs, often missed by many parents.
Wyatt also cautioned about the things in which food and drinks may be held. “Is your child using the same cup all the time? The same mug? The same glass? When you ask, are they saying that they’ll wash it? It might not be just water inside. It might be vodka, or some other alcohol.”
“As the parent, make a simple rule: no food or drinks in their room. Then, you won’t have to worry about it as much,” she added.
Aside from clothing, food and drink, there are hundreds of everyday items that could be used to hide or aid in substance abuse. Wyatt pointed to otherwise harmless items like a flashlight, which if emptied, can function as a pipe for smoking. Even something as common as a wallet can contain hidden drugs. In a typical wallet with a zipper, drugs such as cocaine can be hidden on one side, while something like a shoestring, hidden on the opposite side, can be used as a tourniquet during more dangerous drug injections.
Parents should also be mindful of deodorant containers, especially empty ones, which can easily hide a lighter and cigarettes. Other containers often have removable bottoms, in which drugs and pills can be kept secret without a second thought.
“Sometimes, you may even find what you think is simply a bottle of sunscreen,” said Wyatt. “But, unscrew the top, and it’s actually a flask. This is actually something you can buy, and it looks exactly the same as a regular bottle of sunscreen.” Wyatt said the same about a hairbrush, and hairspray.
Visine, mouthwash and gum can all be used to hide the effects of substance abuse, as well as sunglasses. If you find incense candles or an unusual number of fragrance sprays, this should make you question your teen’s behaviors.
“If you see something that seems innocent, like that bottle of sunscreen, but it’s an off-brand, that could certainly be a hiding place,” she said.
She cautioned that it is vital, especially for teens, to first ask your child about anything you find. “Have a conversation, not a confrontation,” said Wyatt. Listen to what they say. “Kids don’t want to disappoint parents. But never feel bad about checking their space. Their safety comes first, and their privacy second. If you discover substance abuse or other behaviors, try relating your own mistakes to your child, so that they know that anyone can make a wrong choice.
Wyatt also said that setting expectations with your young adults for their behavior is paramount to better relationships throughout their challenging teenage years. Have them help make the rules alongside you, and understand the consequences. Learn to recognize the things in their lives that may have led to their behavior, such as a family death, or an unexpected job loss, or the end of a relationship.
As parents, it’s vital that you are as aware as possible about the resources around you. It is also important that if you discover substance abuse or other troubling behaviors, work toward a solution as soon as possible. Wyatt and her teammates said that substance abuse is progressive, and the longer it goes without redirection, the harder it is to stop or prevent.
KSAAT offers many resources for parents to combat substance abuse, such as the services provided by the Freedom Center in Mount Vernon, the 2-1-1 Crisis Hotline, the Clinic at the Knox County Health Department and at Knox Community Hospital, Touchpointe, Salvation Army, Interchurch Social Services and many more.
Parents and community members can also make plans to learn more about KSAAT’s workings by attending their annual Knox Addiction Conference, which will be held on June 28th and 29th. To stay up to date with the plans for the conference, as well as other events held by KSAAT, please visit their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/Knoxsubstanceabuseactionteam/.
To learn more about the local, state and national services to help combat substance abuse, please visit: http://www.ksaat.org/resources.html. If you would like more information about KSAAT, please visit: http://www.ksaat.org. You can also call KSAAT at 740-392-2200 ext. 2271, or email them at KSAAT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For immediate assistance with mental health, please dial 211, or contact the Crisis Text Line by messaging 741741 and texting “4HOPE.”
Thank you for your interest in and commitment to helping the young adults of our community thrive!