Breaking Through the Haze

Many high schools battle drug and alcohol issues on a daily basis, as well as the raising popularity of e-cigarettes.
To combat these habits PHS has formed a Care Team to work with students and provide guidance for safe decision making through their high school years. The Care Team comprises of the nurse, the Prevention Intervention Specialist, security officers, an administrator, one counselor and the school psychologist.
“We encourage staff to come [to the meetings] but it is really difficult [to do this] because it is during first period. We are not here to bust anybody,” Smith said.
Smith stresses that there are many different situations that lead students to meet with the Care Team, as well as the fact that the Care Team is available to help students, not punish them.
“We are here to help kids that are struggling, [which] might be in a variety of areas. But our focus has become drugs and alcohol. If a student is in risk of homelessness, if there is domestic violence in a home, if there is hunger—there [are] just a lot of different things that we look at. We try to catch kids that are at risk. We meet with them and get them the help we can offer,” Smith said.
Julianne Buffelen, the PHS Prevention Intervention Specialist, also works at Walker High School and other places. She works one-on-one with students and counsels them on life decisions, especially drug and alcohol-related subjects.
“My title is Prevention Intervention Specialist, which could also be drug and alcohol counselor. Not all the kids I work with [are] using drugs and alcohol. Sometimes kids are at risk because they have family stuff going on. An example might be family conflicts but also, if mom is passed out on the couch every night or if dad is selling meth. That is stuff that affects [the] family norm, then there is an ‘okay to do [drugs or alcohol]’ [feeling]. Then they have access to [such substances],” Buffelen said. “Those kids often have a lot going on and are under a lot of stress so I help them. I work with them on how to handle that so that they do not become involved with drugs and alcohol.”
As well as on the role of the Care Team, Smith elaborates on the types of drugs used at PHS.
“I would say at the top of the list [of commonly used substances] would be marijuana. I would probably rate alcohol as a close second and probably pills as a third. Cigarettes are also high on the list. There are kids that will use over-the-counter medications in ways that [they] were not intended [for],” Smith said.
Providing specific examples, Smith explains some of the dangers associated with using over-the-counter and prescribed drugs for non-recommended uses.
“Some students will use cough syrup DXM and if you buy it in a cold tablet form, then you do not have to drink the liquid. If [they] take enough, it gives students a high. It is extremely dangerous. It raises blood pressure, temperature—they can get very, very sick from it,” Smith said. “I have also seen kids use stimulants, stimulants that were not prescribed for them. Generally, [these stimulants] are used for ADHD. If you have ADHD the stimulant fills receptors in your brain that help you to feel focused. If you do not have ADHD, it is like speed.”
Alongside these drug uses, Buffelen highlights the dangers of marijuana and the increasingly popular e-cigarettes.
“There is crazy amount of false information out there, especially about marijuana, even [e-cigarettes] and vape pens. There is a belief that they are safe. And they are not. With e-cigarettes and vape pens, the juice that people put in them has formaldehyde. [Formaldehyde] is also in tobacco products but [e-cigarettes] actually have more formaldehyde, so they have more cancer causing chemicals than an actual cigarette. Those chemicals cause damage to the inside of the lungs,” Buffelen said.
Along with the formaldehyde, a chemical used in the embalming of corpses, Buffelen warns against the dangers of high doses of nicotine and the effect that it can have on the body.
“[E-cigarettes also] have higher levels of nicotine. People who are using them repeatedly are at risk of having nicotine intoxication or poisoning. Nicotine is a very poisonous and toxic chemical,” Smith said. “The emergency rooms are being hit with people that are having nicotine poisoning, even the juices without the nicotine have the formaldehyde in them. The chemicals do not belong in our lungs. Bottom line.”
E-cigarette liquid can also be infused with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Using e-cigarettes with a THC infused liquid allows students to achieve the same high as if using marijuana, in a more easily utilized and scentless way.
“And then there are vapes that instead of the [flavored liquid] you [can] buy, [students] are putting in butter or dabs made of THC and they are inhaling it that way. There is almost no odor. It is extremely dangerous and I do not think students appreciate how that is affecting them. Also, the FDA is not regulating the liquids put in the pens. There has been quite a lot of research recently on all the chemicals that are going into your body [when using an e-cigarette]. I can see a student justifying to themselves that ‘vapes are not as bad as cigarettes” but really it can be very harmful to your body,” Smith said. “When they are vaping a butter or dab, [the THC] is much more concentrated.”
Smith also commented on the impact Washington’s legalization of marijuana has had on students, as well as how students are obtaining illegal drugs and urges parents to lock up any possible substances.
“I think that the legalization in Washington State has sent a message to youth that there is nothing wrong with [it]. The law says not [to smoke] until 21, just like alcohol but I think that the message that went along with [the legalization of marijuana] is really unfortunate,” Smith said.
As well as the legalization shining an undeserving positive light on marijuana use, Smith explains where students get the drug and cautions parents on being watchful. She also urges them to purchase protection for prescription drugs and alcohol with student safety in mind.
“I think that marijuana is very accessible to the public,” Smith said. “If [a student has] a friend that is of age and can purchase marijuana at a dispensary, that is probably where most kids get it. [With] alcohol, it is probably whatever parents have in the house or again, an older friend. If it’s pills, whatever is in there house or cabinet. I think that most parents trust their kids. But kids by nature are curious and their friends are curious. It can be as simple, for example, as a kid who justifiably has narcotics for say a wisdom tooth extraction and really liked that feeling. Then they know there is 30 tablets left in the bottle. It can be very easy for students to want that feeling again. For [low prices] parents can buy a lock box and key, just for that extra level of protection.”
In finishing, Smith comments on how to avoid contact and temptation with such substances as well as what to do when you are put in such situations or peers who use mind-altering drugs or alcohol.
“I think Puyallup does a really great job at educating at a really young age. But once you hit the high school… If you are in a room with ten people and nine of them are using [drugs or alcohol] they are much more likely to try something. Part of it comes from [influence from] their peers and some of it comes from their own self-interest. Equally, if there is a room of ten kids not using substances…It goes both ways. You can have positive peer influence as well. So, I think you [should not] put yourself in situations. If you know it is going to be there, you do not go,” Smith said. “Nobody wants to be a nark but tell an adult but maybe even confidentially tell an adult. Most likely if kids are using, they are driving home. That is a recipe for disaster. I think talking about it with your friends and letting them know that [it] is nothing you want to try, just putting it out there for your friends.”
Buffelen concludes with an invitation to students who are battling addiction or temptation, as well as other issues; to come and visit her by the nurse’s office, behind the attendance office or to contact the care team.
“I think the impact that [the Care Team has] is to identify students that needs support and try to offer them that support. Whether that is here at school or getting them connected to services outside of school,” Buffelen said. “I am here Wednesdays and every other Friday and my door is open to any student. Whether it is drug and alcohol related or not, my door is open. Always.”