An alcohol and drug specialist with Fairfax County Public Schools, Michele Tureaud didn't mince words when telling parents how today's teens are abusing drugs and alcohol.
She also showed them how something innocent-looking is often a disguise for something else. Said Tureaud: "Kids are coming to school with water bottles full of clear alcohol."
SHE WORKS out of the Centreville pyramid, but spoke to parents recently at a Drug Awareness program sponsored by the Westfield High PTSA and the Westfield Community Coalition at Westfield.
It's Tureaud's fourth year as a specialist, and she's trained each year about the new drugs, paraphernalia and trends. And much to the amazement of the parents attending, she showed them how teens are turning everything from cough medicine to whipped cream into something harmful and potentially life-endangering.
"I'm here to encourage and support you," she said. "And I strongly suggest that you have a talk with your child — because you'll have that gut instinct whether he's in trouble or not."
Tureaud said most teens start with tobacco. "It teaches them to be sneaky, inhale and introduce a foreign substance into their body," she said. "It's addictive and it's a drug. If you see lots of lighters and matches with your son or daughter, it's time to have that dialogue. Or if you see a round indentation in the back pocket of your son's jeans, ask him about his can of chewing tobacco."
Communities That Care did a 2001 survey for Fairfax County Public Schools and learned that 9 percent of eighth-graders, 15 percent of 10th-graders and 30 percent of 12th-graders had smoked in the last 30 days.
"High-school boys, especially athletes, think they're the bomb if they smoke cigars," said Tureaud. "They're hollowing out the cigar and filling it with marijuana to make a blunt. Today's marijuana is stronger and more powerful than it was 15 years ago, and it's often laced with something else."
Leslie Churn, a substance-abuse counselor at Westfield High, said stores sell cigars in strawberry, blueberry and honey flavors — which appeal to girls. "If you suspect it, you should taste or smell it," she said. "And if you smell cloves in their room, check it out — because, unless they're cookin' a ham, they're probably smoking clove cigarettes."
She said bidis are also popular. Cigarettes in raspberry, strawberry and peach flavors, they have no filters and contain 50 percent more carcinogens than regular cigarettes. They're almost all chemicals and are available up front in some convenience stores, so teens have easy access. Said Tureaud: "If you hear 'chew' or 'bidis' in your children's conversations, have that talk."
KIDS WHO SMOKE marijuana often go on to stronger and more addictive drugs, she said, risking cancer, infertility and, in men, decreased levels of testosterone. Also popular are hookahs, which contain water and flavored tobacco. But, warned Churn, "If you find a bong or a hookah in your kid's room, it's probably filled with marijuana."
Often, she said, teens "get creative and dent cans and water bottles and put holes in them for the stream of smoke. Or kids take out the screens from the sink pipes to keep the marijuana down so it won't fly out [of their 'pipe']. They use large paper clips for roach clips, and they keep marijuana and drugs in 35-millimeter film canisters and in baggies."
Alcohol is teenagers' next drug of choice, she said. "When they're high, they feel invincible. But when they come off of it, there's a sense of depression." She said teens may look like they're drinking Arizona brand iced tea in an opaque bottle, but they've substituted the alcoholic Mike's Hard Lemonade for the tea.
"It is your obligation to protect your son or daughter and keep them safe," Tureaud told the parents. "And if they're engaging in drugs and alcohol, it's your duty to get them the help they need."
Even vanilla — with a 30-percent alcohol content — can be abused by teens. Said Tureaud: "They're flat out drinking it straight." She said flavored wine coolers are "huge with girls." They're easily shoplifted and taste sweet. But because of that, she said, "They drink way more than their bodies can tolerate."
And when it comes to beer, she said, 12 ounces isn't enough for today's teens: "Kids are drinking 22- or 40-ounce beers, with 40 ounces the most popular." She then demonstrated how a beer bong works.
"Kids put a funnel inside a tube and put it into their mouth and throat — so the beer goes directly from the funnel to their stomach," said Tureaud. "A 40-ounce beer is four beers — and they're drinking this all at one time."
"That's how alcohol-poisoning happens," said Churn. "It's scary," added Tureaud. "There are drugs and alcohol in every one of our high schools — public and private — from Langley to Mount Vernon, and in elementary and middle schools, too. And your kids have been exposed to them."
By eighth grade, she said, 42 percent of students here have tried alcohol at least once. By 10th grade, it's 61 percent; and by 12th grade, it's 76 percent. Tureaud also warned parents that if teens are drinking alcohol in their homes and the police find out, the parents will be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
She said it's also important for parents to have good relationships with the parents of their children's friends. "If a party is at their home, I introduce myself to the parents and make sure they'll be there, the whole time," she said. "If it's at my house, every 20 minutes I'll come down and offer them more food and soda — checking on them, but in a covert way."
NEXT SHE discussed cough medicine — which also contains alcohol. Robitussin contains DXM (dextromethorphan), which suppresses coughs but, when taken in large doses, produces hallucinations and a sense of dissociation. It can also cause an exceptionally high fever, seizures, brain damage and death.
"Kids are drinking a whole bottle to get high, and there are chat rooms talking about Robi-trippin," said Tureaud. "If you hear that word [from your child], have that conversation." Coricidin cold medicine can also pose a danger, she said.
"Kids have 8-16 or more of these tablets and throw up, and that's when the buzz kicks in," she said. "If you have Robitussin or Coricidin in your medicine cabinet and it disappears frequently and quickly, you need to have that talk."
Tureaud said teachers can no longer keep White-Out on their desks because "kids are inhaling it." They're also inhaling markers, as well as the propellant — the nitrous oxide — in cans of whipped cream. But it can be deadly. Said Tureaud: "If you do it once, you could die."
"I actually had a group of kids who were siphoning the freon from the air conditioning in their church and inhaling it," said Churn. "The high fades quickly and then they're done — so they do it over and over again," added Tureaud.
A Westfield High teacher said some girls are even dousing hair scrunchies with inhalant and wearing them on their wrists to sniff in class. Said Tureaud: "Signs of inhalant use are red under their nose and mouth, and glassy red eyes."
She next discussed club drugs, such as ecstasy, used at raves. Often called "X," ecstasy produces both stimulant and psychedelic effects. And, said Tureaud, "You can have ecstasy tablets custom made with your school's mascot on it, such as Chantilly Chargers and Westfield Bulldogs."
Typically, she said, "They'll drop some LSD on it to increase the high. It releases the serotonin in your body — the mood stabilizer — so after the warm, fuzzy feelings are gone, kids get very depressed and want more ecstasy — and it'll destroy them." Said Churn: "Kids have been known to get so depressed, they commit suicide."
Tureaud also warned parents about "date-rape" drugs like GHB ("Georgia Homeboy"), rohypnol and ketamine ("K") which are tasteless and odorless and easily slipped into a drink from Visine bottles. And, she said, some students camouflage their drugs in Skittles and Sweet Tarts packages and sell them from there.
"Kids are going to parties with your prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet," said Churn. "They put them all together in a hat and pass it around — and you don't know what's been mixed in there. Or they crush them up, put them into Jungle Juice and drink it." Said a dad from the audience: "They don't seem to realize that that can kill you."