Student Vaping Epidemic 'Came out of Nowhere'

Drug Counseling Expert Speaks to School Board About Student Health Crisis
Posted on 08/27/2019
Melissa Groden, director of prevention, training and education for The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, speaks to the Quakertown Community School Board on Aug. 8, 2019.By Gary Weckselblatt

An expert in drug counseling admitted to the Quakertown Community School Board that the vaping epidemic “came out of nowhere” and that districts in Bucks County and nationwide are seeing a dramatic rise in vaping among teens, who are using hard-to-detect "juuling" devices to inhale flavored juices, nicotine and marijuana.

“No one was prepared for the amount of students that were to be engaged in vaping on school property and then coming into a dependency on the product itself,” said Melissa Groden, director of prevention, training and education for The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania.

She said students are vaping - ingesting favored chemicals, nicotine or marijuana - in bathrooms, the back of classrooms, hallways and other public locations. Much of their use goes undetected because many of the devices do not emit an odor or smoke like a cigarette, she said.

In addition, they’re tiny enough to conceal in the palm of a hand. She described the "Juul," as a USB shaped e-cigarette that’s battery-powered. The battery needed to heat the fluid on these devices can be charged through a USB port on a computer.

“One pod of ‘Juul’ juice is the equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes,” Ms. Groden said. “And there are people who are smoking the whole pod in one sitting.”

They’re doing it in bathrooms, she said, and in classes, where students blow the vape into their sleeves.

QCSD, Ms. Groden said, has been “very responsive” to addressing the problem by “educating staff, educating students ... to making sure resources are available to the community.”

Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission Vaping Toolkit

Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner called student vaping a “seriously unhealthy practice.” He said ambulances were called to Quakertown Community High School twice last year when a student passed out after a “Juul” was shared with them.

Student leaders have spoken out against the practice and have told the School Board they are avoiding bathrooms at QCHS so they don’t come into contact with the offenders.

“You hear I don’t want to go to the bathroom all day because someone is always vaping,” Director Ron Jackson said during Ms. Groden’s 25-minute presentation on August 8. “I’m hoping there is something we can do about it.”

Board Member Jen Weed said students have asked her “if they could have teachers in bathrooms. They’re leery about going to the bathroom.”

Ms. Weed, chair of the Policy Committee, asked what other districts do when parents want paraphernalia back? “Do we have the right to destroy it?”

Ms. Groden said there is not a “consistent procedure” among districts. “Some policies say it has to be returned, but the parent is required to come in and pick it up,” she said.

Director Keith Micucci said the “scary thing about it is teenagers, in their brain, are meant to experiment. But what’s crazy is what they’re experimenting with today, the synthetics … the fact that they have no idea what the mixture is. … It’s literally killing people because they have no idea what they’re taking.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].
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