Over the past few years, the advent of the vape pen and e-cigarette has changed the way that society approaches nicotine consumption. Unfortunately, however, what was initially created to help provide cigarette smokers a safer alternative to the cancer-causing chemicals found in traditional tobacco cigarettes has been turned into a potentially harmful gateway into the realm of synthetic drugs, especially for teens. Because e-cigarettes are perceived as “safe” by the public, many young non-smokers fall into the vaping addiction and abuse trap and eventually evolve into smokers.
However, among teens and even middle-schoolers, the use of vapes and e-cigarettes has become an epidemic, with one study showing that teen vape usage has jumped 75 percent this year alone. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report from 2015 showed an alarming upward trend in the use of vaping products in teens, with the usage for middle and high-schoolers tripling in 2014 and increasing another 13.4 percent in 2015. Although many counties like Miami-Dade and Broward have local ordinances that prohibit the sale and marketing of e-cigarette products to anyone under the age of eighteen, very few regulations are in place that prevent a persistent teen from securing access to these products from online stores. These devices are also easily hidden and are often hard to distinguish from a typical USB or ballpoint pen, allowing teens and students to discreetly use them while in public settings like the classroom or in restrooms.
A Clear Public Health Issue
Recently, many teens have been rushed to the emergency room due to using liquid additives that contain synthetic drugs like Flakka, K2, Spice, and more. Emergency rooms across the nation have seen increases in the number of individuals admitted for synthetic drug overdoses directly resulting from vape usage, which amplifies the effects of the additives at an exponential level. The highs resulting from vaporizing additives work quickly, and have been proven fatal in the past. These synthetic drugs are many times stronger than true marijuana-based products, and very dangerous due to the health risks of ingesting products without knowing the true active ingredients. Flakka alone has seen an increase of 780 percent over the course of the past few years due to how easily it can be converted into liquid concentrate. Due to the lack of a distinguishing odor and smoke, it’s nearly impossible to discern what exactly a teen might be consuming when they use their vape pens. In order to determine exactly what may be in an e-cigarette’s cartridge, an officer would have to confiscate the device and use a field test kit, making it nearly impossible to know when a teen may be abusing drugs. Because e-cigarettes aren’t exactly typical drug paraphernalia, they can blur the lines of probable cause and make it difficult for law enforcement officers to determine the illegality of its use.
According to drug abuse epidemiologist Jim Hall of Nova Southeastern University, there are methods of tracking almost every type of drug ingestion, whether it be smoking, shooting, or oral ingestion, but not with vaping. Because of how easily synthetic substance abuse can be hidden, parents, teachers, city officials, law enforcement officers, and medical personnel have been encouraged to keep their eyes peeled for the physiological and behavioral symptoms and side effects indicative of usage. These include erratic behaviors, persistent confusion, paranoia, chronic coughing, nosebleeds, and dry mouth. If you believe that your child or loved one is abusing synthetic drugs through an e-cigarette, make sure to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of abuse. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Recovery Unplugged if you think your teenager is struggling with synthetic substance abuse— every day without treatment is another day they might wake up in the emergency room, or not at all.