Youth e-cigarette use on the rise in McHenry County

Traditional smoking takes back seat to electronic devices among students

Fewer high school-aged students are smoking conventional cigarettes compared with previous years, but the decline could be evidence of a new preference among young people, officials said.

Cigarette use among 10th- and 12th-graders has fallen since 2016 in McHenry County, according to the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey by the Illinois Center for Prevention Research and Development. E-cigarette use, on the other hand, increased in the same age group over that period and could be contributing to marijuana use, the survey showed.

In 2016, 16 percent of 10th-graders and 27 percent of 12th-graders reported using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days. Last year, those numbers jumped to 25 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Originally marketed to adults hoping to cut back on conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping devices have found their way into the hands of young people who use them for more than nicotine, Laura Crain of the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition said Monday during the McHenry County State of Addiction address.

“The reality is that there’s a form of marijuana called dab,” she said. “Dab is a purified form of THC that can come in anything from a liquid to a butter to a brittle kind of thing, almost like peanut brittle – it’s called shatter or glass because it can be very see-through. That percentage is 85 [percent] to 95 percent pure THC, and that is something that is going into vaping equipment.”

Proponents of marijuana legalization, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, argue that criminalizing the substance has led to unreasonable prison sentences that disproportionately affect people of color. As states across the country have begun to legalize marijuana, however, more high school-aged people perceive marijuana as risk-free, Crain said.

“Whether it’s alcohol or whether it’s marijuana, the perception that those are risky substances has started to go down, and so kids are not seeing those substances anymore as risky,” Crain said. “They hear about opioids. They hear about that. You’ll see that those numbers, they qualify them very risky, but [it’s] interesting in that it is also the perception of use.”

Despite changes in the ways teenagers ingest marijuana and nicotine, peer pressure – or the perception of it, at least – is as much of a factor as it’s ever been. High school-aged students in McHenry County tend to assume that all of their friends are doing it, Crain said.

“That’s what they think – [that]
90 percent of kids are smoking or drinking,” she said. “The reality of that perception is way off. It’s about 40 [percent] to 52 percent.”

The perception is the same with vaping habits, she said.

“There are kids who aren’t vaping,” she said. “They have to promote that. They have to talk about that.”

Some researchers have labeled marijuana a “gateway” drug that could lead users to more serious illicit substances.

Marijuana – like alcohol and nicotine – can “prime the brain for a heightened response” to other substances, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Although people who use more serious drugs first tried marijuana, most people who use marijuana won’t move on to a more harmful substance, the institute reported.

While alcohol and marijuana use either have remained stagnant or been on a slight decline since 2016, another trend continues to rear its head, McHenry County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Muraski said.

A 2013 national study found that
1 percent of high school seniors had used heroin in their lifetime. The same survey found that 11.1 percent had used an opioid pain pill for nonmedical reasons, Muraski said Monday during the address.

“We see an increase in prescription pills, and a lot of people who are being prescribed their pills are actually trading it out to get heroin or fentanyl-laced heroin,” Muraski said. “High school kids are also getting involved with that.”

People who receive prescription medication from their doctor or pharmacist do not need to worry that their medicine is contaminated with another substance, he said.

In an effort to combat juvenile substance abuse in McHenry County, schools such as those within Prairie Grove School District 46 have taken steps to install special sensors that would alert school staff about possible vaping and bullying infractions.

The Amita Health Behavioral Medicine Institute also offers partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs for those ages 12 to 18 at its facility at 500 Coventry Lane, Crystal Lake.

Similarly, Rosecrance, the McHenry outpatient mental health and substance abuse center, has partnered with McHenry County schools to help identify “high-risk” students and offer rehabilitation services, Rosecrance regional administrator Carlene Cardosi said.

“This program gives us the ability to go into the schools and educate, do substance abuse assessments, run early intervention groups out of the schools, meet with students individually and then start to set up the substance abuse treatment,” she said.

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