Chapsticks, eye drop containers, faucet screens and hairbrushes are just some of the common everyday objects that youths are using to abuse and conceal illegal drugs.

During an Operation Street Smart presentation at Barnesville High School recently, Mike Powell, retired sergeant, presented these and many more items used to conceal drugs to parents and educators. 

Operation Street Smart is a program designed to provide training to parents, educators, resource officers and other professionals who deal with children on the current drug trends, terminology and paraphernalia. 

According to Powell, the program came about when he and his partner questioned why they should keep all the experience they have in the recovery field to themselves when they could create a program to educate anyone who has a nexus to abuse, which he noted is the entire country.

A grant was applied to start the program in 2002 and was approved within six days.

Since then, Powell and his partner have traveled from coast to coast giving more than 2,000 presentations to over half a billion people.

Powell stunned many of the attendees, when he informed them that Ohio was no. 2 in the country for overdose deaths. West Virginia was listed as the no. 1 state. 

Ohio, in 2017, saw 45 overdose deaths per every 100,000 residents.

Powell also said that in 2015 there were 3,310 deaths in the state but that number increased nearly 40 percent in 2016 with 4,329 deaths and increased again in 2017 with 4.854 deaths attributed to drug use. There is an average of 14 people a day dying in Ohio from drug use.

Additionally, Powell noted that people in the United States does 80 percent of the prescription opioids and 99 percent of the hydrocodone in the world and that we are one of two countries that has advertisements for our pills and medications.

Many attending the recent presentation were even more shocked when Powell announced that within one year there was a 39 percent increase in cocaine-related deaths while methamphetamine deaths increased by a whopping 130 percent. He also noted that the U.S. consumes more than 50 percent of the world’s cocaine.

“When you look at our country, we have abused more dope than any other country in the world,” Powell said. “We are less than five percent of the world’s population, but yet we consume more than 50 percent of the world’s illicit cocaine. We are the no. 1 customer for all the cartels for that illegal stimulant.”

Powell told the audience that while giving his presentation to teenagers at school he has discovered that many of them knew more about drugs than their parents did, and that now the adults have to learn more.

“Be aware of the terminology for the young people in your world more than ever before to slow this monster down,” Powell said. “You pick up a phrase or term that gets your attention, expand the picture. You find an item that doesn't seem to make sense for where you found it at that time, expand the picture. You pick up an odor from someone you think might be using a drug in an improper way, expand the picture, ask why does he or she smell like that. Look at it all.”

He also pointed out that terminology changes over time especially in reference to types of drugs and that adults need to find a way to stay up to date on that terminology.

According to Powell, by the time a parent finds their teens’ drugs they are probably a long way down that road toward addiction. He advises parents to watch for the paraphernalia and to look for the items they could be using to carry or conceal drugs. Most of these are small items that are typically used in daily life and still serve the purpose they were intended for but also serve to hide the drugs.

He also advised parents to check out www.headshopfinder.com or www.smokeshopfinder.com. Both are national databases that list all the shops in the country and they can see some of the drug paraphernalia currently trending. He also noted that most of what people are using could also be purchased easily on amazon.

Some of the not-so-obvious items he pointed out include a pot used for smoking dope concealed as a tube of lipstick and screens for water faucets.

“When kids are using drugs in an improper way, they always leave little things behind and if you can identify those little things you know where that person is on that path,” Powell said.

Other items he pointed out were Chore Boy scouring pads used for crack cocaine and methamphetamine, highlighters and Sharpie markers used as pipes to smoke drugs, and a large nut and bolt with a void in center to stash drugs inside. 

He noted that the nut and bolt was all too easy to hide simply by greasing it up and putting it in a tool box with similar items and nobody would be the wiser because it’s an item that does what it’s supposed to do but also hides the drugs.

These are the types of items they found in 65 to 70 percent of the search warrants they served.

Other ways used to conceal drugs included over the counter drug products with the real pills on the top but the illicit drugs hidden in the bottom, Ice Cube gum containers are also another ordinary container used to hide drugs, they can be purchased from a paraphernalia shop with a screw off bottom.

Pop cans are popular items used to stash drugs.

“When an item is used often it starts to develop a stressed look,” Powell said. “Families are missing that. Look at that item. Why has he had that container so long, why is she keeping that container very close to her. Those are all things that are very important signs. We are missing these little things and we can’t afford to keep missing those little things.”

Another item he pointed out was the round hairbrushes with a top that unscrews, drugs can be stashed in the brush. 

Powell recalled a time where he went into a head shop to see what the popular items were and started talking to the person behind the counter who told him the can of Liquid Wrench was one of his preferred places to stash his drugs.  He told Powell that he would put the drugs in the can and then dent up the container and since he drove a pickup truck he would put trash in the bed of the truck and throw the container in the bed. Anyone seeing the container in his truck wouldn’t think twice about it because it fit in with the trash there.

Teenagers are finding inventive ways to consume alcohol. They keep a bottle of vodka in their car and a bottle of eyedrops on them. Only thing is, that it’s not eye drops in the container, it’s vodka. They can take a quick shot of it and go to the car and refill the container for use later on. Vodka is the common choice because it’s a clear low odor alcohol. 

Powell multiple times during his presentation encouraged everyone who was in attendance to share all the information they learned during the presentation with everyone they know.

“Share all these things,” he said. “Make them more aware and maybe we can slow the monster down together.”

* This is the sixth in the series “Combatting the Crisis, Drug Addiction in southeastern Ohio. The Daily Jeffersonian is publishing this series in an effort to be proactive in the war on drugs by educating the community on the effects of drug use, prevention and the resources and programs available locally to help those who use and their families.

Previous articles in the series:

• Ohio loses more than 1 million years of human life to drug crisis

• Recovering drug addict: ‘Forgiveness is the hardest pill to swallow

• Joint collaborations are key to community drug problems

• ‘I’m starting to love me again’

• C.A.R.E. Program offers tools for leading drug/alcohol free life