By Jon Tatting
A group of parents and health care professionals got a wake up call on today’s street drugs and the extremes in which users will conceal their habits during a special class Feb. 23 at North Branch Area High School.
North Branch Community Education organized “Street Drugs: What’s Out There Today?” an adult learning program led by veteran narcotics officers Sgt. Kelly McCarthy and Sgt. Dale Hager of the Lino Lakes Police Department.
Their mission: to educate moms and dads, and even civic groups and professionals who work with children, on the common street drugs so they can identify and put an end to the issue at home where they have control.
“We need to catch kids early,” said Hager to the dozen or so adults in attendance. “As law enforcement, we can’t affect the supply of drugs, but we can affect the demand…”
Diving into some drug language, he asked, “Who knows what 4:20 means?” Many in the class didn’t know. Pot smokers celebrate the number because it means marijuana (pot, weed, etc.) or the universal time or date to smoke up (get high), Hager replied, and you should know what it means.
Hager and McCarthy discussed the typical progression of drug use or the drug gateway, which is debated in some circles. However, law enforcement sees the trend with people often starting with tobacco and alcohol before upgrading to marijuana and then onto heavier drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.
“I don’t know one meth addict that didn’t start without first smoking a joint or cigarette or having a drink,” said Hager.
The Lino Lake officers brought plenty of visual aids for the class who got to see and actually smell a bag of pot. They passed around confiscated paraphernalia, such as water bongs, metal and colorful glass-blown pipes (or bowls) and the everyday pop can, one of many ways a user can get high by finding what’s laying around the house.
They displayed a variety of clean pipes, appearing as drug paraphernalia, which are legally sold at select stores with the “for tobacco use only” label. Both McCarthy and Hager voiced frustration over this business practice.
When it comes to enforcing the law on drug paraphernalia, they continued, law enforcement must be able to prove it’s intended for drug use — that is, it must contain at least drug residue, have the aroma of drugs or be accompanied with illegal substances on the person at issue.
If someone is caught with around $400 to $500 worth of marijuana on them, it can be a felony drug crime, said Hager, noting lesser amounts are only a petty crime. One ounce of pot, for instance, will fill half a standard sandwich bag and be worth anywhere from $250 to $300.
Many kids will share or go in on dope because it’s so expensive. So is the source a dealer or just sharing? It’s a tough line to figure, Hager explained.
McCarthy said today’s manufactured marijuana is much more potent with higher THC levels than what was typically smoked in the 1970s and even ‘80s. “It’s not ditch weed anymore,” she pointed out.
Times have also changed in that medicinal marijuana has been legalized in some states, while others have proposed and could even legalize it in the years ahead.
In their police work, the officers have typically found grinders, cigarette rolling machines, rolling papers, roach clips, digital scales and small screens taken from a window or bathroom sink drain to allow users to smoke just the product without inhaling the hot ash that results from using a pipe or bowl.
Those who smoke pot will commonly have eye drops to conceal the drug’s effect on the eyes, which are usually droopy or look very tired. Others will get creative when hiding their dope. McCarthy and Hager have seen users conceal their drugs in the bottom of shoes, inside of baseball caps or other hats and even highlight markers with false screw-on bottoms that reveal a small and working pipe.
The officers also discussed methamphetamines, the incredibly dangerous chemicals needed to make it, the related health risks and the theft and burglary crimes people will commit to get their next fix.
They addressed how people have turned to taking and oftentimes stealing prescription drugs, including Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycodone and other pain killers, from loved ones and others who may or may not notice their pills missing from their medicine cabinets.
Parents need to be tough and make their kids accountable for what they do, emphasized Hager. “We want you to know what you can do at home to reach kids.”
“Drug use is a symptom of something else,” added McCarthy.
North Branch resident Trisha Smith attended “Street Drugs.” Next week, she shares the tragic story about how her youngest son got into drugs at age 12. Though he was killed in a car crash in 1998, his memory lives on. She has a message for fellow parents.