In Arlington, learn to spot signs of teen drug abuse

ARLINGTON — Many parents don’t know it when they see it.

Young people hide drugs or the tools they need to use them in plain sight. It might be a kit for using heroin tucked into a pencil box or a half-used roll of aluminum foil in a dresser drawer. Drugs themselves can be stored in innocuous places and used in ways that parents might not notice. For example, “dabs” — a concentrated form of THC — are odorless and can be put in an e-cigarette.

The Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition and volunteers in the Lakewood School District aim to help parents learn how to recognize drug use in their homes and confront it early on. Two simultaneous events called “Not in My House!” are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, one at Weston High School and one at Lakewood High School.

“You don’t have to think your student is on drugs to want to come,” said Stephanie Ambrose, a school resource officer with the Arlington Police Department. “Our ultimate goal is prevention so they don’t even get to the point of finding things in their kids’ rooms. We want to stop it before they go down that rabbit hole.”

Plans for the event include a presentation and a resource fair featuring local organizations that help with prevention, intervention, treatment or support groups. Police plan to have a table with drugs and paraphernalia from local cases, checked out from evidence storage so parents can put eyes on the actual items, Ambrose said.

A hands-on exhibit is designed to find out what signs of drug abuse parents can recognize in a teen’s room. Two mock bedrooms, one for a girl and one for a boy, are going to be set up with fake drugs and paraphernalia in what officers say are common hiding spots. Groups will have about 15 minutes to go through the rooms and write down where they think the items are hidden. Police will review to see what they found and what they missed.

“Hiding in plain sight is the perfect definition,” Ambrose said. “There’s potential that their kid could have these things in their room right now and they just don’t recognize them as related to drugs.”

Drugs that will be discussed include heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana or related products.

The line between respecting a teenager’s boundaries and keeping them safe is a hard one to draw, but parents shouldn’t be afraid to find out what is happening in their home, said Andrea Conley, one of the coordinators for the drug awareness coalition.

“You need to be proactive as a parent,” she said. “It’s about giving them permission and telling them it’s not a matter of invading their privacy, it’s a matter of safety for their kids.”

The Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition formed in 2013 when parents, teachers, nonprofits, businesses and other volunteers banded together over concerns about drug abuse. They’ve put on public events and worked with students in local schools. To learn more about the group and stay updated on events, go to facebook.com/arlingtonaware. Those interested in helping can contact Andrea Conley at 360-631-2021.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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