Student Leaders Stand Against Drugs, Vaping

By Pete Zamplas

Local student leaders remain steadfast against the torrid opioid epidemic and other drug abuse but are now also warning against health perils of electronic cigarette “vaping.”

High school and middle school student leaders give a “thumbs up” in their stance against drug use, in the We are Hope rally Friday. Joining them are teachers, civic leaders, and schools Supt. Bo Caldwell at upper left. Photo by Pete Zamplas

Hoping vaping vaporizes in usage among their peers and others soon enough, dozens of Henderson County public middle and high school students stood together Friday on steps of the Historic Courthouse.

Their message resonated across western North Carolina, in the fifth annual We are Hope rally put on by HopeRx. The group, an outreach of the Henderson County Partnership for Health, educates and warns about drugs and particularly prescription drug abuse.

On May 17, HopeRx and Hendersonville Police co-sponsor Drug Take Back disposal in Patton Park of expired and unused pills (to keep them out of the wrong hands), medical patches, ointments and vitamins.

Paper will be shredded —up to 50 pounds from each vehicle. The collection is starts 9 a.m. that Friday, and ends once the shredding truck fills or by 10:30 a.m. Canned food will be accepted, for Storehouse and IAM distribution.

HopeRX cites Henderson County sheriff data for the county that as many as four deaths per month are caused by overdoses, first responders treat nearly ten overdoses weekly on average, and that 90 percent of accidental poisoning deaths were related to medication or illegal drug overdoses. The top three culprits were opioid analgesics such as methadone. Further, the effect spreads as nearly 85 percent of all crimes in the county are linked to substance abuse.

We are Hope publicly honors pledges to avoid drugs and alcohol. Teens take such pledges individually, and also collectively by signing their school’s banner. It capped a week in which students heard speakers in their schools tell first-hand of how drug abuse destroyed their lives, but in many cases how they beat it with resolve and fortitude.

Clustered in front of the pillars of the century-old downtown centerpiece, these youth role models are the next wave of community pillars.

“You are our hope,” Sheriff Lowell Griffin said. “We can beat this (drug abuse) epidemic.” He calls the student’s pledges “monumental.”

Supt. Bo Caldwell told the students that “you’re fighting this crisis together.” He quoted Martin Luther King that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Graham Fields, AdventHealth Hendersonville (Park Ridge Hospital) executive, also commended the student leaders for setting healthy examples. AdventHealth and Pardee UNC Health Care are among HopeRX founding sponsors. Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk and HopeRX founder and head Julie Huneycutt were among dignitaries at the half-hour ceremony. Rain was forecast, but held off.

Ten schools’ banners were posted on the courthouse columns Friday and remain throughout this week, which is Easter holiday from school. The schools include Hendersonville High School (HHS); East, North and West Henderson high schools; and Apple Valley, Flat Rock, Hendersonville and Rugby middle schools.

Also represented was the Innovative High School’s Early College High School and also its Career Academy; those classes are at Blue Ridge Community College.

“Vaping” is inhaling and exhaling vapor from an electronic cigarette, or similar battery-run device. Some look like pens or USB memory sticks. Typically an e-cigarette device has a mouthpiece, heater, cartridge for scented e-liquid aerosol, and runs by battery.

Recent medical studies indicate e-cigarette smoking’s damage includes to gums and teeth, from nicotine and other ingredients. Dental Drs. Scott Froum and Alisa Neymark wrote an article on the perils published in January in Perio Implant Advisory.

“Nicotine affects gingival blood flow, as it is a vasoconstrictor,” Drs. Froum and Neymark wrote. “It also affects cytokine production, neutrophil function, and other immune cell function. In addition, nicotine decreases connective tissue turnover. All of this results a much higher chance of developing gum disease and tooth loss.”

Propylene glycol (PG), also common in ice cream, is a carrier for nicotine and other chemical inhalants. “When used orally, the breakdown products of PG include acetic acid, lactic acid, and propionaldehyde — which are all toxic to enamel and soft tissue,” Drs. Froum and Alisa Neymark explained. “Water molecules in saliva and oral tissue will bond to the PG molecules, leading to tissue desiccation.” Resulting “dry mouth” leads to “cavities, gum disease, and other oral health issues.”

Vaping is catching on with youth. Studies indicate that one in five high school students use tobacco products, and that e-smoking soared 78 percent from 2017 to 2018 nationwide among high school students and 48% among middle school students.

“Vaping is very popular,” said Michelle Geiser, HopeRx’s program director who organized the rally. She said it is marketed toward young people with candied flavors such as gummy bear. “They’re targeting youths.”

West Henderson’s student government president, senior Moriah Fender, blames peer pressure for the growing vaping fad. She said the habit is growing, and hitting more and more families.

Fender said people seek to belong and sharing an activity such as vaping (instead of sports, et al) is a way some do that. She reasons a driving force behind substance abuse is quest for “comfort and fulfillment.”

Fender added “I know friends’ families affected by opioids, and people who’ve struggled” with its addiction.

HHS Student Body V.P. Rae Suber told The Tribune that overdosing in this area is increasing from various drugs. “You hear about people overdosing.” It struck close to home. “My brother’s ex OD’ed” fatally this month, from pills suspected to be Xanax, Suber said. Suber, a senior, plans to study business at Eastern Carolina University.

Fender is on her way this fall to UNC-Chapel Hill for public health pre-med, and aspires to be an OBGYN physician.

Vaping is much “easier to conceal” in a crowd than smoking a joint which has a tell-tale scent and regular cigarettes in no-smoking areas, Sheriff Griffin told The Tribune. “There’s no noticeable smoke trail, or odor.” He reasons that drug-smoking vaping people are “aware of what they’re doing” illegally, since the drugs are typically added to the device.

Vaping’s inviting illusion is it seems much safer than smoking, as it emits much less smoke and smell, several students told The Tribune right after the rally.

Yet nicotine, cigarettes’ basic and harmful component, is also in vaping, Olivia Brock among others noted. That is enough to avoid vaping, she said. Brock was among six seventh-grade Hendersonville Middle student leaders at the rally. Others included Ramsey Ross and India K. Smith.

Drs. Froum and Alisa Neymark wrote that “Although the percentage of nicotine is much lower (0.3%–1.8%) than traditional tobacco products, one electronic cartridge (200–400 puffs) can equal the smoking of two to three packs of regular cigarettes.” Also, they noted, “nicotine concentrations in e-cigarettes vary widely.”

Students after the rally expressed alarm that vaping devices are getting spiked with drugs, which adds an even greater health danger. An extra health concern with vaping as with any drug use is not knowing what toxic ingredients are mixed in by those concocting the drugs.

HopeRx’s Geiser said meth, opioids, and marijuana’s psychoactive chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are among narcotics that some smoke when vaping.

Even the e-cigarette’s battery can be dangerous. Drs. Froum and Alisa Neymark report that a youngTexan was “killed when his vape pen exploded, and part of the device wound up severing his jugular vein.” They said e-explosions are usually from “lithium batteries overheating and exploding,” due to improper charging.

Sheriff Griffin assured that school resources at schools and deputies on patrol elsewhere are on the lookout for drug-smoking vaping, and put the clamps on it once detecting it. “We act, as soon as we find any indication.”

He calls vaping a rising trend that is a “hazard to students” and adults.

Check for more on HopeRX’s fight against drugs, and to donate to the cause. For more on Drug Take Back on May 17, call Lu Ann Welter at 233-3204.

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