Arlington locals and regional health officials discussed trends in drug use for youth at the most recent panel from the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition on April 30.
The panel, titled “Empowering Parents,” was meant to inform parents about what is happening with drug use and local youth, and give them strategies they can adapt to prevent drug abuse.
The event was originally planned for February but was rescheduled because of weather.
Arlington High School Principal Duane Fish said that the district’s goal is to have students graduate and be ready for college and/or a career.
“If they’re going to get there we can’t have these substances impairing their decision making and learning,” he said.
One of the biggest increases in recent years is from vapor devices (e-cigarettes, JUUL devices).
The devices vaporize substances meant for inhalation, typically some sort of chemical that contains nicotine.
“It’s exploding,” said Jennifer Reid, vaping and tobacco specialist at the Snohomish Health District. “We’re seeing it everyday in our schools almost all the time."
The district’s most recent Healthy Youth Survey in 2018 reported that 30.4 percent of 12th graders had used a vapor device in the last 30 days.
Although traditional cigarette use has dropped in the last three surveys, that drop is offset by an increase in vaping device users.
“We have a huge increase in our 8th, 10th and 12th graders from 2016,” said Reid.
The number of Snohomish County students using a vaping device increased by about 10 percentage points, which is about in line with national trends, said Reid.
“I strongly suspect these numbers are under-representative because of the difference in terminology,” said Reid.
Many teens don’t considering using a JUUL device (one of the more popular vaping devices) as not vaping, she said.
Fish said he has seen an increase in vaping in his students as well.
He reported the school has dealt with 60 discipline incidents this year regarding vaping.
“We could spend every day doing nothing but vaping enforcement, but that’s not what you’ve hired us to do,” he said.
About 24 percent of 12th graders report currently using marijuana as well, although those numbers have remained steady since marijuana legalization, said Reid.
“Instead, what we have seen is an increase in the THC concentration [the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of the drug],” she said.
Those who smoked marijuana in the ‘70s and ‘80s would be smoking a drug with THC concentration less than 10 percent, but today’s strains regularly have around 30 or 40 percent concentration, said Reid.
For young adults heroin and opioids continue to be one of the largest health hazards and one of the most dangerous drugs, said Pia Sampaga-Khim, healthy communities specialist with the Snohomish Health District.
“In 2017 heroin took over as the leading cause of death from prescription drugs, and sadly what we’re seeing now is more overdoses from synthetic opioids,” such as fentanyl, said Sampaga-Khim.
“What we’re seeing now is a lot more fentanyl which is fully synthetic,” she said.
Sampaga-Khim encourages parents to be involved in their children’s lives and said they know their children best.
Sometimes parents immediately search their kids' rooms after hearing about the current drug use numbers, but she said there are a lot of warning signs that parents should look for first.
“If their grades are dropping, they’re changing friends and they’re not interested in their usual activities,” they may have begun using drugs, she said.
Sometimes a change in mental health is what can be what causes a teenager to start using drugs as well.
“The first thing I ask them is what the drug gives them that they can’t get elsewhere,” said Arlington High School intervention specialist Rhonda Moen.
“I’ve seen a lot of issues with depression and anxiety and that has just been skyrocketing lately,” said Moen.
Grace Williams, Arlington High School student and chair of the Arlington Youth Council, agreed that mental health plays a large role in teen drug abuse.
“There’s a reason your youth are doing this. It’s not because they hate their parents or want to rebel, it’s because there’s anxiety and depression going on,” said Williams.
“A lot of the reason there is addiction in youth is because of mental health,” she said.
The Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition was founded in 2012 “with the mission to raise awareness, provide information about drug use in the community and provide hope for families,” said Weston High School Principal Will Nelson.
More information about the coalition and their events is available at facebook.com/arlingtonaware.