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Parents, educators have old and new foes on drug front

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RONAN – Parents and teachers might think they are in the know about the signs of drug usage, but a growing number of new potent threats to youth health abound alongside the longstanding methamphetamine problem in Lake County. 

Law enforcement, school and medical officials spoke at Ronan High School Aug. 24 about the signs and dangers of drug usage. 

Marijuana is one of the most commonly confiscated drugs, according to Mission Mountain Drug Task Force Agent Vern Fisher, but Ronan High School Vice Principal Frank Jobe said a recent training opened his eyes as to how the drug is now being marketed to kids. 

While rolling a joint is still popular, youngsters can more easily get high undetected by purchasing e-cigarettes. Minors in 11 states, including Montana, can legally purchase the e-cigs — and their popularity among young people is soaring. In November 2014, the American Medical Association reported that usage of e-cigarettes and other electronic smoking devices by high school students went from about 660,000 students in 2013 to about 2 million in 2014. The group’s data indicates 450,000 middle school students use electronic cigarettes. 

Those electronic cigarettes can be filled with waxes and oils that have extracted all of the chemical THC from marijuana. THC is the active ingredient that causes a high. Marijuana plants have about 15 to 20 percent THC, while the e-cigarette smoke is almost pure THC with 80 to 96 percent of the chemical making up the vapor.

“A kid could say that it is cherry and I like to blow smoke rings, but there’s a lot more to it than that and you wouldn’t be able to tell. You wouldn’t have any idea,” Jobe said. “If your child has an e-cigarette it needs to be taken seriously. There really is no reason your kids should have them, absolutely none, but grocery stores and gas stations can sell them because they are not classified as tobacco.” 

Jobe collected 11 of the e-cigarettes last year at school, and four of them were identified by a drug dog as containing THC. 

Some of the waxes aren’t smoked in e-cigarettes, but are smoked in a bong. In either case, cuticle trimmers are used to divvy out the wax. 

“There’s no reason why your kid should have a torch in their backpack or in their room, but I snagged four torches last year,” Jobe said. “Also, if your son becomes very interested in his cuticles and has a cuticle cutter,  those are things as a parent that you need to look for.” 

Aside from vaping devices, marijuana is also finding its way to young people via edible food products that are legal for medicinal purposes in the Missoula market, Jobe said. 

“If it is in candy, the candy is probably going to be wrapped or rolled into powdered sugar so that it doesn’t stick,” Jobe said. 

In Ronan, marijuana and pipes were found in both middle and high school grades last year, Jobe said. 

The drug problem is troubling to Ronan Basketball Coach Steve Woll. 

“I’ve been very disturbed in the past four or five months with kids I really recognize having problems,” Woll said. “I’ve learned a lot. I ran into some kids this summer and I didn’t recognize them … I sat down with them and they were pretty open. What we are seeing is pretty unbelievable. They flat out told me that 30-day treatment doesn’t work.” 

Finding adequate treatment in Mission Valley is a big problem for drug users, Dr. Paul Gochis told the crowd.

“It can take a year or more to get everything back to normal,” Gochis said. 

Treatment can cost around $20,000 per month and is rarely covered by insurance, Gochis said. 

And even after treatment, the long-lasting side effect of the drugs can be devastating. Gochis said he has one patient who is in her late 20s, has three children, and is facing possible heart failure as only 20 to 30 percent of the major organ works. A heart transplant will likely be necessary to save her life. 

Mission Mountain Drug Task Force Agents Vern Fisher and Alan Booth said that Mission Valley residents can help with the drug problem by educating themselves on the topic, and reporting suspected drug usage to 406-249-6014 or 406-249-5076. 

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