Marion Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey says adults in the Tri-Town have begun to contact her concerned about Tri-Town teens presenting with signs of nicotine addiction.
Downey initially introduced this topic to the Board of Health last week when she said, “I’ve had multiple conversations with parents at flu clinics and at my office concerned about kids in the school who they believe have exhibited addiction behaviors.”
What these parents are seeing, Downey said, is a surge in cigarette use among Tri-Town teens and their friends – a consequence of the state’s September 24 ban on all e-cigarette and vaping products which cut off the steady supply of electronic nicotine products that were once relatively accessible to them.
“They feel that the kids are substituting cigarettes for e-cigarettes,” said Downey, and she suggested that public health officials and school administrators should take action to help young people overcome a likely nicotine addiction.
“Addiction needs to be treated, whether it’s cigarettes or opioids or alcohol,” said Downey, “and kids should be sent to their medical provider.”
Downey said last week that she wasn’t making any demands of the board, but said, “Just know that we recognize that there may be some addiction issues among youth, and the strategies that the state had put in place for adults are not easily transferable to youths.”
During a follow-up with The Wanderer this Tuesday, November 12, Downey said the preoccupation persists. She is pleased that, after reaching out to Superintendent of Schools Doug White, White had responded by assuring Downey that he would be contacting the school doctor on the matter.
Downey’s main concern is that if kids are being affected by an abrupt discontinued use of e-cigarette and vaping products and exhibiting signs of nicotine addiction, the mitigating measures offered to adults over the age of 18 – nicotine patches, lozenges, and gum the state has ordered pharmacies to readily provide without a prescription – are less available to younger people. Kids would have to approach their parents for help in combatting nicotine withdrawal and visit their primary care physicians, something Downey recommends parents do so that kids can get the help they need.
“Vaping has been going on quite a while, and the adolescent population of Tri-Town – many kids have at least tried [vaping] and many kids are regular users,” said Downey. “And to all of a sudden remove the substance – wondering if kids were addicted was becoming problematic, and kids were coming home and talking about their friends as being addicted.”
The 2015 piloting of a risk survey completed by students at Old Rochester Regional Junior and Senior High Schools showed that just four years ago, 24 percent of ORR High students were vaping, and 7 percent in the junior high. A 2017 statewide youth survey showed 41 percent of high school students had at least tried vaping, along with 9.9 percent of junior high students.
“The adults in the room should recognize – without judgment – that they’re dealing with addiction and get them to a primary care provider to help them with their addiction,” said Downey. Otherwise, she said she fears more kids will turn to cigarettes.
“One mom told me she was concerned about her son, questioning whether or not he could be going through withdrawal,” said Downey. “She thought he was.”
Two other parents who recently spoke with Downey are “concerned that nobody was paying attention to it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, they (kids) can’t just walk away,” said Downey. Safe substitute nicotine products need to be made available, she added.
Downey said anyone anywhere in the community with a concern about youth nicotine addiction may contact her by calling her office at 508-748-3507.
Adults can encourage teens and adolescents to seek help with nicotine withdrawal on their own terms by utilizing a number of different services provided by the state. Young people can text “VapeFreeMass” to 88709 to get started, or call or text “Start My Quit” to 855-891-9989 for free confidential help. The same help is provided by signing up at www.mylifemyquit.com.
Parents and adults can also text “QUIT” to 202-899-7550 to receive text messages specifically designed to help parents help their kids quit nicotine.
By Jean Perry