By Meghann Sepulveda
It took just one bad hit from a strawberry kiwi-flavored
electronic cigarette that led Dante
Sanmiguel, the (then) 18-year-old Tempe student, fighting
for his life.
Hours after succumbing to peer pressure to vape, Dante experienced a high fever and extreme lung pain. The healthy teen was admitted to the hospital and spent three weeks in the intensive care unit.
Doctors told him he would likely need a lung transplant and shared a grim outlook: a five-year life expectancy. Miraculously medical intervention worked, Dante’s lungs healed, and he had a full recovery. But many teens across the country aren’t as lucky.
Alarming statistics nationally and locally
Substance misuse often occurs in social settings and includes vaping, marijuana, alcohol, and opioids, and can result in drug addiction, serious impairment, illness, and even death.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that in 2015, more than 1 million youths in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 are addicted to drugs.
“In Arizona, the average age for marijuana use is 13 years old,” said Shelly Mowrey, demand reduction coordinator for Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. “And now that marijuana is legal in the state, we’re seeing high levels of THC that can have dangerous outcomes.”
That number may seem startling, but what’s even more concerning is the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans age 14 and older.
Early education is key
A huge hurdle in the fight against drugs is how teens are introduced to these substances.
“Kids are being asked to use at such a young age,” said Bernadette Coggins, program director for Tempe Coalition, an organization on a mission to reduce underage drinking and drug use. “They’re offered drugs through social media apps like Snapchat and various online platforms.”
Most recently, brightly colored (“rainbow”) fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, is being distributed in various forms including pills, powder, and blocks that resembles sidewalk chalk to lure children, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
“What’s frightening is the current landscape of how fentanyl is being laced into many drugs,” Coggins said. “Research shows that only 50 percent of eighth graders know what it is and what it looks like.”
Awareness and outreach
Tempe Coalition, which is comprised of residents and professionals who live and work in the community and strive to collectively improve the city of Tempe by advocating for the reduction of youth risk behaviors, is using grant funds to educate students about substance misuse at Kyrene School District and Tempe Union High School District.
“Opioid awareness is critical,” Coggins explained. “Our priority is to inform youth in our community about how just one pill can contain a deadly dose of fentanyl.”
As part of Tempe Coalition’s outreach efforts, Kyrene School District is offering a series of parenting courses to discuss topics such as internet safety, bullying, and the dangers of vaping.
At Tempe Union High School District, the organization is providing information surrounding opioid awareness in presentations for students taking health and physical education classes.
Additionally, Tempe Coalition is working closely with Tempe Fire Medical Rescue and the Tempe Police Department to support local schools, along with community partners such as notMYkid.