Berrien County Health Dept.’s unique approach to teen drug abuse

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 7:29 PM EDT
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BUCHANAN, Mich. (WNDU) - One of the most challenging topics for some parents is talking to their kids about drug use.

In response to this potentially sensitive topic, the Berrien County Health Department is using a more engaging method so parents can be better prepared.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, nearly 63% of 12th graders who used marijuana in the last year consumed marijuana by vaping.

“Our state has legalized recreational marijuana for those over 21,” says Lisa Peeples-Hurst, the Substance Prevention Supervisor with the Berrien County Health Dept. “We tend to think that marijuana, because it’s a naturally grown product, is therefore harmless. The reality is that the potency is much higher these days than it was. I’m from the Cheech and Chong era; this is not Cheech and Chong marijuana.”

That is why the Berrien County Health Dept. set up a “mock teen bedroom” during Parent-Teacher conferences at Buchanan High School and welcomed parents to come to try to find hidden drug paraphernalia.

Seemingly innocent soda cans could be potential stash spots, as well as false wall sockets, plush pillows, and even hallowed-out books.

“So things that look harmless, right, may have a hiding place; it may be a stash,” Peeples-Hurst explained. “If you notice the same can of soda on the nightstand for over a week, that’s probably not soda.”

While marijuana has been used for specific medicinal purposes in adults and children, Health and School Officials want parents to know it is still harmful to developing teens.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the continued use of marijuana does lead to some psychological (issues), like increased depression or increased anxiety, or any other mental health issues that present themselves,” Peeples-Hurst said. “Even though marijuana is touted to be relaxing and helping the body do so, it still is a brain-altering substance, and so all those other things that come along with that are areas of concern.”

Officials want parents to be especially vigilant of teens vaping marijuana and the health effects it can cause.

“Our kids seem to know the difference between not actually having a marijuana product, like a joint, or buying, but it seems harmless if I put it in a vape pen because aren’t vapes harmless as well,” Peeples-Hurst proposed. “But the reality is we know that anything that’s introduced to a teenage brain alters their behavior; it alters their development, so the longer we can prolong the use of any substance, the better.”

Buchanan High School Principal Brian Pruett acknowledges that this is a national issue.

“This is not just a Buchanan thing, or a Niles thing, or a St. Joe thing; this is prevalent among teenagers everywhere,” says Brian Pruett, Principal at Buchanan High School.

Pruett also reiterated that this program isn’t to get kids in trouble.

“When you catch a kid with something, it’s not about a discipline thing; it’s about what we can do to help,” Pruett added. “And it’s not about holding grudges against kids because you chose to use a vape or chose to use marijuana; it’s about, hey, what can we do to help you out.”

Berrien County Health officials think this program is a great way to get parents more involved.

“We think that establishing that type of communication is beneficial to families because we have a lot of work to do to combat substance abuse in our county,” Peeples-Hurst concluded.

Schools in Berrien County can invite the health department to visit their school and set up this unique presentation for their parents.

Additional teenage drug usage stats from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics:

Nearly 600,000 teenagers aged 12- to 17 used an illicit drug other than marijuana in the last month.

25.6% of 8th graders have abused alcohol at least once.

Overdose deaths due to opioids have increased 500% among 15- to 24-year-olds since 1999, and teens who legally use opioids in high school have a 33% greater risk of misusing them after high school (this can start due to something as commonplace as a sports injury and develop into dependency over time).

Other than marijuana (32.6%), college students use cocaine (13.3%), hallucinogens (13%), and MDMA or Ecstasy (9.8%) more than other illicit drugs.