Seemingly innocent household items are used every day to hide smoking and drug paraphernalia in kids’ bedrooms. According to national survey statistics, 25% of eighth-graders admitted to drinking alcohol and 45% of high school seniors have used marijuana. On Thursday January 16, local parents were invited to an event hosted by William Monroe High School to learn about the newest trends in drug use and other worrisome teenage behaviors.
Hidden in Plain Sight, an awareness program for parents of teenagers covering topics of risky behavior, substance abuse, prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco, violence and more, featured an open house where parents could view a mock teenage bedroom. The room, which was staged in the performing arts center, was full of items hidden “in plain sight” that could indicate drug use or other troublesome activities. Hosted by the Culpeper Police Department and sponsored by the Culpeper Wellness Foundation, the program’s goal is to help raise awareness for parents and encourage discussion with children.
According to Dr. Kyle Pursel, Greene County Public Schools director of administrative services, Melissa Meador, Greene County Emergency Services manager, had heard about the program and recommended it as an initiative for Greene schools.
“The high school wanted to host because they’re trying to do some parent informational meetings on different topics,” Pursel said. “Then we got the Greene County Public Safety Foundation on board; they supplied all the food and drinks for us.”
There was free pizza and Gatorade available to participants in the cafeteria, and free babysitting provided by high school students.
“We’ve got high school kids here to help babysit if parents want to bring kids because we’re not bringing kids into the space,” Pursel explained. Students from Teachers for Tomorrow, BETA Club and National Honor Society were on hand earning volunteer hours by watching the younger kids during the presentation.
Parents gasped as the officers identified everyday items with hidden compartments to hide drugs or smoking paraphernalia throughout the mock bedroom. A teddy bear had a hidden bottle of pills in a Velcro pouch under its sweater. A fake water bottle had a hidden compartment under the label. DVD cases hid needles and gum wrappers were actually rolling papers.
All the items on display were bought legally from websites and companies in the United States.
“You can sell those items in the store because you sell them as tobacco products,” Officer Michael Grant explained, pointing out various items on the screen. “What you put in it after you get it is what makes it illegal. The apple on the right there, that’s a real apple. She just made it into a bong.” Grant, a Master Police Officer, has been in the force over 39 years and used to work with Greene’s Sheriff Smith.
Various clothing items and product logos were explained to be showcasing brand names or code names for strands of marijuana and other drugs.
“With the legalization of marijuana in different states, all these companies come out of California,” Lt. Ashley Banks explained. “Kids see it, they see other kids with it and they want it. So again, pay attention to what your kids are buying, what they’re wearing.” Banks, who has worked for the Culpeper Police Department for 15 years, has spent the last three years running this program.
According to a longtime survey of youths, college kids and young adults by Monitoring the Future, the problem is more widespread than parents may realize. Roughly 25% of eighth-graders, 43% of 10th-graders and 59% of 12th-graders admitted to drinking alcohol. Additionally, the survey showed 15% of eighth-graders, 34% of 10th–graders and 45% of 12th-graders have used marijuana.
“Back in the day, you used to bake brownies and put marijuana in it,” Grant said. “Well today, kids don’t know how to cook so now they use what they call Firecrackers, which is graham crackers with Nutella on it and you grind up your marijuana and you sprinkle it on top.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s 2018 statistics, 27% of teens were using some type of tobacco product, with most of those being e-cigarettes or various vaping devices. These devices are small and can be hidden in anything from a hoodie to a watch face, from a computer mouse to a hairbrush. The recent rise in the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 may make it harder for teens to acquire these devices, but many online providers don’t work very hard to prevent underage sales, especially in states where marijuana is now legal, according to officers at the program.
“Obviously this bedroom is over the top,” Grant said. “But by the end of the presentation this bed will be full of stuff.”
From marijuana to heroin, gambling to violence to distracted driving and dangerous party games, the presentation elaborated on many potentially worrisome behaviors and activities to be on the lookout for.
So what should a parent do if they find any of these items? Ask your child what it is and why they have it. Try not to jump to conclusions.
“We’re not counselors, but we’ve been very successful with the program,” Grant said. “We’ve had a parent call back and say they saw this presentation, went home, found something—I didn’t ask what it was—but the child now is getting counseling and that communication with the parent is opened up so we’re very excited about that.”
All three officers wanted to emphasize that the items shown were only suggestive and that the best course of action is to be informed, be aware and use your knowledge to start an open and honest conversation with your child when concerns arise. Just because your child listens to Miley Cyrus does not mean they’re doing drugs. This is simply meant to raise awareness.
“The mother of Columbine is starting to talk out now,” said Grant, referring to Sue Klebold, mother of one of the shooters who killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in 1999. “She saw every bomb every day in her garage and didn’t know what she was looking at. He kept saying it was a science project. So she’s talking now how the clues were there and she just never realized.”