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Letting Parents in on Substance Abuse Secrets

Star Ledger, Saturday, April 16th article by Eugene Paik

Bridgewater: Rachel Colonna has heard stories of students at the Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School abusing "bath salts," Spice and K2 — so-called "designer drugs."

What she wanted to know was which chemicals she hadn’t heard about.

Colonna, a substance-abuse counselor at the Bridgewater school, was among a dozen people who attended a seminar at the high school Thursday about addictive substances popular with students but unknown to parents.

"The kids are always one step ahead, unfortunately," Colonna said.

County youth services officials and local substance abuse awareness advocate EmPoWER Somerset were moved to hold the seminar for parents after Spice, K2, bath salts and Four Loko made headlines over the past year.

Not to be confused with actual bath-related powders, bath salts are substances that are sold over-the-counter under a variety of names and have been linked to violence. State lawmakers are considering a bill to ban them.

Authorities said they are investigating whether a possible abuse of bath salts in any way contributed to William Parisio’s alleged killing of his girlfriend, Rutgers University senior Pamela Schmidt, at Parisio’s Cranford home last month.

Federal lawmakers are also cracking down on Four Loko, an alcohol-based energy drink, and the marijuana-like substances Spice and K2.

Hillsborough police Detective Trevor Oldenburg said there are about two to three rescue calls a month in his township related to these designer drugs.

Also of concern are substances such as the herb salvia, which recently saw an uptick in popularity after an internet video showed pop star Miley Cyrus smoking it.

And it’s not just drug-like chemicals that are troublesome, said Sharon Lutz, executive director of EmPoWER Somerset. Untraditional alcoholic products can be easily accessed by children, with companies selling small, disposable pouches of booze and alcoholic whipped cream.

Detective Jeff Dockery of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office said the answer to controlling those substances isn’t simply making them illegal because they frequently change shape "and you’ll never have it totally defended against."

What’s key is educating the public about their effects and the ease in getting them, he said. Children who use the substances sometimes think the chemicals are safer than traditional drugs.

"That bag of heroin is no different than the synthetic version," Dockery said. "It’s just a different chemist."

Parents, meanwhile, need to understand that children are clever in masking their substance use, Lutz said.

They can stash drinks or drugs in water bottles and chip canisters. They can also store alcohol in retail-sold sports sandals that have flasks in their heels. If parents do find their children using these substances, Dockery said, the important thing to do is seek help.

"You can’t always be a friend," Dockery said. "You have to be a parent."