On behalf of our school district and Rotary Club, I invite all families to attend a free event, “Substance Abuse and the Teenage Brain,” Tuesday, Mar. 13, 6:30 p.m., at South Burlington High School. We are bringing a wonderful speaker, Debby Haskins, to come and share what is available in our community today and how we can react.

There is no escape from drugs in our society. This is a fact that can cause an appropriate response of fear in our minds. It is when we are able to acknowledge the power of our fear that we gain strength.

I have been a coach, educator, and counselor in our community working at the high school for 10 years now. Even though I do not reside in South Burlington, I share my heart and energy with local families daily. Currently, I am focused on how substance use is affecting the overall health of our youth.

We are not talking about a new story here. Many people have had experiences where they encountered a variety of drugs. Drugs that impacted our lives and our families. The same drugs are still here, but the availability and convenience of drugs is increasing, specifically nicotine (tobacco) and THC (marijuana).

Several years ago, if you wanted to smoke a cigarette because you “needed” or just “wanted” one, you would have to enter a process. You had to go outside even on the most frigid days. Light one and bear the environment. Smoke one, know it was bad for you, and burn your lungs. Then attempt to mask it, and have the odor linger on your clothes, hands, and mouth. Our kids today all know that smoking cigarettes is bad for you and they don’t do it.

Now, they vape or Juul. (Juuling is named after the juggernaut company, Juul, that has cornered the tobacco market over the last three years). One can do this wherever they want. In the bathroom, in the back of the class, inside your hoody when a teacher steps out of the room, in the back of the bus. All you may, or may not see, is a quick cloud of smoke that goes away in seconds. There is little odor, and, for someone, in my case, who uses school bathrooms, it can even make the room smell better, like mango, mint, or other assorted flavors. Initially, the invention was a dream for those adults who were long addicted to classic butts, but now it’s a nightmare for our youth and families. The best place for kids to access nicotine is through the internet. The technology is still new enough that we are still gathering data that is coming back in alarming numbers that are labeling it an epidemic.

Marijuana/THC is legal now in Vermont and in many states. Rules and regulations are still being figured out as it becomes more common for our youth to access and use. Kids are using it through traditional smoking, edible THC products, and vaping oils. It is much easier to get than alcohol, and the potency of all forms of THC is higher than the past.

So, what are we to do? Communicate. Educate ourselves. Communicate some more. The topic of drugs and how they impact our youth is one that elicits fear. However, as loving adults, we do not want to create fear in our kids. It is our job to be here for them no matter what. We will increase our own confidence with knowledge.

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