Drug, alcohol companies creatively targeting young users, says Rock Hill expert—The State

Drug and alcohol companies are getting creative in their efforts to target young users, said Danielle Center, prevention director for Keystone Substance Abuse Center in Rock Hill.

Shoes and hats with hidden compartments, tins that look like lip balm and other products and flavored alcoholic drinks are just some of the ways young people, including students, are targeted by a growing problem, Center said.

At a recent Rock Hill School Board meeting, Keystone presented current alcohol and drug use trends to board members, who are considering a policy that would call for random drug testing among student-athletes. It is legal to test students participating in extracurricular activities, but testing all students is not legal.

In 2015, Keystone conducted a survey of 6,000 students throughout York County to learn what drugs they may be using and determine their perception of drugs and alcohol, Center said. Three percent of seventh grade students said they used alcohol in the past 30 days at the time of the survey. That number climbed to 13 percent for freshmen and 22 percent for juniors.

“Alcohol is still the number one abused drug by our youth,” Center said.

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Forty-two percent of juniors stated that they felt there was no risk or slight risk with using alcohol, Center said. Of that same group, 16 percent said that their parents would feel it was not wrong or a little bit wrong and 51 percent said their peers thought it was not at all wrong, or a little bit wrong.

When students think their parents or peers would approve of the alcohol or drug use, they are more likely to engage, Center said.

“Typically when underage youth are going to drink alcohol, they aren’t drinking a glass of wine with dinner, they’re drinking to get drunk and they’re binge drinking,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of problems with it.”

Hard ciders and other flavored drinks with nine to 14 percent alcohol are contributing to the problem, Center said. Drinks such as Four Loko, a malt beverage with a similar alcohol content in one drink as in four beers, is giving minors the impression they aren’t drinking as much as they are, she said.

“The alcohol industry is doing its job,” Center said. “They are making it flavored, putting more sugars in it and making the alcohol content even higher.”

Marijuana and prescription pills are a growing problem as well, Center said. While less than two percent of seventh grade students polled in York County said they used Marijuana in the last 30 days, 14 percent said they had used as juniors.

Sixty percent of juniors said they don’t see Marijuana as risky and 53 percent said their peers do not feel it is wrong, Center said. Of the juniors, 17 percent said they believe their parents do not feel it is wrong to use Marijuana.

“Legalization pays a large part in that,” Center said. She said students are hearing Marijuana is safe to use and Keystone expects those numbers to climbas states legalize it. South Carolina is currently considering a bill to legalize medical use of Marijuana.

The problem, she said, is the drug isn’t the joints of the 1970s that contained five to ten percent THC, the chemical that gets users high. Now, Center said, the average joint contains 20 to 30 percent THC.

“You’re skyrocketing that high right there,” she said.

Products such as hash oil, a concentrated liquid essence of marijuana, can have concentrations of THC up to 90 percent, Center said. Users smoke the oil using a specific contraption. YouTube videos also exist for how to create hash oil in the home, a process similar to Meth with similar explosion risks, Center said.

“We’ve seen people pass out after one hit of 90 percent THC,” she said. “We’re seeing Marijuana starting to act like a hallucinogen and stimulant. It’s causing people to go to a psychosis state.”

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High levels of THC have led to emergency room visits, hospitalizations and suicides, especially in adolescents, Center said.

Eight states have made recreational use of Marijuana products legal and 28 states have legalized medical use, she said. That means one in five people have access to legal Marijuana in the U.S.

The products are also available online and can filter into South Carolina, Center said. She said Keystone has conducted focus groups in York County schools and has learned that students are using hash oil in small numbers because of its cost, but are aware it exists.

“This problem is already here,” Center said. “We’ve already had multiple seizures in South Carolina from products we’ve seen in Colorado.”

It’s becoming easier for users, including students, to hide their drugs. Galaxy e-cigarettes may look like the ones used for nicotine, but are actually designed for Marijuana, Center said. The Pax 3 Vaporizer is a product used for smoking loose leaf Marijuana and hash oil.

Edibles that look like regular pop tarts, brownies and other treats and candies containing the drug are “targeting our youth,” Center said.

Containers that look like Carmex lip balm but say a different name are actually used to hide drugs. “The Marijuana industry got very creative and are starting to use products that look very similar to other products,” Center said.

Hats with a small crown in the corner contain a hidden compartment for drugs in the lip while special shoes have a compartment under the tongue.

“Kids can hide anything they want in that hat and you would probably think nothing of it,” Center said. “It looks like your typical hat.”

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Prescription drug use is also climbing among students, Center said. Thirty percent of York County juniors reported that they felt their peers do not think prescription pill use is wrong and 17 percent felt there was little risk to using them. Ten percent of juniors felt their parents would not see a problem with pill use. Seven percent of juniors reported using pills in the past 30 days.

Rock Hill School Resource Officers have on hand NARCAN, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioid drug overdose, out of necessity, said Maj. Steve Thompson. He said there has been at least one overdose at a local high school this year that required emergency transport.

“That’s disturbing because that’s the trend we are seeing,” he said. “We’re trying to keep these drugs out of the schools in the hopes we never have to use this.”

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Trends such as skittles parties, in which students take a handful of pills and put them in a bowl that is passed around, is making a comeback, Center said. The students are taking the medications from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets. It’s also popular for students to ask their peers for their leftover pain pills from injuries or wisdom teeth removal.

“We’re not locking up our pills and we’re not disposing of our pills when they are not used,” Center said.

The Rock Hill police station and others have containers to drop unused medications in their lobbies.

Paraphernalia is also on the rise with creative symbols on shirts hiding their true reference to drugs, Center said. Shirts are sporting what looks like an arrow, but really reflects Forty to Five, the new ‘420’ reference to Marijuana, and the word Trap, which means drugs. Double Styrofoam cups also reference drugs.

Students are also creating drinks using a mixture of soda, candy and cough syrup, just one of many uses of legal drugs, Center said. She said schools need to look at how they will handle legal drugs as well.


The number of York County students Keystone has served has grown since FY 2015, Center said. Keystone aims to target students in sixth grade with early prevention programs. Many times, that is when students begin to be exposed to drugs and may start using, she said.

“There is a need for prevention for this,” Center said.

Keystone’s goal, she said, is to get a program into every York County school that focuses on personal management, social skills and drug resistance skills.

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Drug testing student-athletes is also a deterrent, said Brian Butts, facilities manager for Keystone in Rock Hill. He currently runs a drug testing program in the Clover school district. Clover school leaders say the program is effective.

The fact that Rock Hill is considering the drug testing program for student-athletes “speaks volumes of the school board and where we’re at right now,” Thompson said.

York County student drug use facts

  • 51 percent of juniors said their peers think drinking alcohol isn’t wrong, while 42 percent see little risk in drinking
  • 13 percent of high school freshmen and 22 percent of juniors, when surveyed, said they drank alcohol in the last 30 days
  • 57.7 percent of juniors believe there is little to no risk in using Marijuana and 53 percent said their peers see nothing wrong with using the drug
  • 17 percent of juniors believe taking prescription pills is safe and 30 percent feel their peers don’t see a problem with it

Information from Keystone Substance Abuse Services in Rock Hill – Data is based on a 2015 survey of 6,000 students

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