Officers offer advice on drugs, vaping, other school threats

January 17, 2019

For a parent who discovers their child might be using drugs, it can be hard to know what to do.

During a community forum Tuesday night, Rochester Police Capt. Mike Drees had some advice on what not to do.

“It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is,” Drees told a crowd of nearly 100 parents and students at Willow Creek Middle School.

“Just don’t do nothing.”

The Rochester school district and Rochester police hosted a forum to talk about how the district handles threats, the use of tobacco and vaping products and drugs.

District and police officials, along with Anna Oldenburg of Olmsted County Public Health spoke and took questions from the public.

Vaping in school

Dillon Jergenson, a Century High School freshman, said students use vape products regularly at school. He said the forum did teach him about some of the health risks associated with vaping. Presenters said vaping can cause “popcorn lung” which scars the air sacs in the lungs and causes permanent lung damage. The condition is called “popcorn lung” after workers in popcorn plants developed the condition from what is believed to be exposure to diacetyl which is used in some of the flavored vape “juices.”

“I see it quite a bit,” Jergenson said of students vaping.

Stefanie Jergenson said she brought her son to the forum to learn some things herself but also for his benefit.

“It’s always good to hear it from the source and kind of soak it up,” she said.

Superintendent Michael Muñoz said school officials try to catch students vaping in school.

“But I’m not going to sit here and say we’re catching everyone,” he said. “Our goal is not to catch and punish them, our goal is to address the problem.”

For that, Muñoz said the school district needs help — from parents, community leaders and even lawmakers, he said.

“There’s a lot of people who need to join us and help us on this issue,” he said, adding the Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on companies marketing to teenagers.

Sgt. Pat Kelly, school resource officer for Mayo High School, noted that companies are targeting teenagers with their vape products, much like cigarette companies once did.

District officials brought a collection of vaping hardware confiscated from students to display during the forum. Muñoz said confiscations are daily occurrences in the district.

Not just nicotine

Police noted that it isn’t just nicotine that can be used in some vape pens. Butane hash oil, a concentrated waxy cannabis extract, can be used in some pens. The oil, known as BHO, contains high levels of THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana.

“It’s not a simple hit off a joint,” said Al Arzola, criminal interdiction officer. “It’s way more addictive.”

Arzola said it’s possible to overdose on the butane-derived wax. He also noted marijuana is more potent and available in greater quantities due to legalization in some states.

Kelly said possession of high-THC content products can be a felony.

Forum leaders also touched on social media uses and how the district deals with threats. Dan Stensgard, school resource officer at the Phoenix Academy, said online threats meant to terrorize people can rise to felony level offenses, too.

“Have that conversation with your kids about that,” Stensgard said. “Because social media can cause harm to themselves if they’re posting certain things.”

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