2017-10-19 / Around Town

Exhibit Offers Glance Into Substance Abuse

By Brooke Constance White

Items typically found in a teen's bedroom may hide drug or alcohol use in plain sight. This exhibit set up contains 54 items that may appear innocent, but educate parent on how to spot symptoms or signs. Items typically found in a teen's bedroom may hide drug or alcohol use in plain sight. This exhibit set up contains 54 items that may appear innocent, but educate parent on how to spot symptoms or signs. It’s a common scene in teenage bedrooms across the country, except this time it was in the middle of the Rogers High School library.

A bed with a rumpled comforter, shoes and clothes strewn about, a computer open on the desk, a water bottle and candy on the bedside table. But if you look closer, there’s another story. Drugs hidden under the insole of the shoe on the floor. The water bottle is full of vodka. The candy is actually edible marijuana. The computer’s browser history shows YouTube videos about self-harm. The mock bedroom held 54 items that might look innocent at first glance but could be a sign of substance abuse or self-esteem issues.

The Hidden in Plain Sight presentation, put on by Terri-Lynn Longpre and Pam Shayer during an Oct. 11 open house at Rogers High, offered moms and dads a glimpse into items that some teenagers are using as drug paraphernalia and self-harm tools. Parents also learned about common hiding places and what signs and symptoms might indicate drug or alcohol use or other risky behaviors. The presentation was sponsored by the Newport Prevention Coalition, and students were not allowed into the exhibit.


Cans, shoes, a rumbled bed, even a water bottle can contain substances hidden in plain sight. Cans, shoes, a rumbled bed, even a water bottle can contain substances hidden in plain sight. Longpre and Shayer, both from the Blackstone Valley Prevention Coalition, guided parents through the room, while asking them to look for items they might consider suspicious.

“Within this bedroom, we’ve got everything from kids just starting out to hide stuff to those who are doing heroin,” Longpre said. “You have to know the signs and symptoms for everything to be able to identify when your child needs help.”

The coalition learned about each of the hiding places and items after talking to teenagers and young adults in long-term recovery. Some of the more discreet items to watch for are eye drops to cover up bloodshot eyes, apples that can be hollowed out and used to smoke marijuana, and empty cans that can hide drugs.

Parents also learned to look for inhalers without prescriptions that can be turned into vaporizers, bandages indicating self-harming behavior or IV drug use, plastic sandwich bags used with spray paint to “huff” from, or dryer sheets to cover up marijuana/tobacco smell. The list goes on. And while many items in the demonstration were confiscated from students throughout the state, Longpre advised parents not to go home and ransack their children’s rooms; instead, she coached them to use this exhibit as an opportunity to open up lines of communication, and to talk with children about what’s happening in their lives.

Lisa Ruth, the student assistance counselor at Rogers and Thompson Middle School, said the problems of substance abuse, self-esteem issues and self-harm behaviors are present in every school and that the real issue is in educating people to identify behaviors that might indicate deeper concerns.

“Indicators might be a student’s grades drop or their friends change,” she said. “It’s not just kids coming in smelling like pot. There are early identifiers, other tells that they’re going through something.”

Above all, the presentation is designed to offer parents a way to become aware of current trends, Shayer said, adding that those trends will likely evolve and change. But having been made aware of some of the ways students can access drugs and alcohol, along with other harmful items such as razors, the hope is that parents will be more mindful of what their students are doing.

“This is an opportunity for parents to engage in a conversation with their teen, which is crucial in all developmental aspects of their life,” Shayer said. “If parents are suspicious, [they] should engage in a healthy, open discussion with their child. Utilizing resources in the community will also provide both parents and youth support on issues they may be facing. Most importantly, proactive parental involvement is crucial in preventing substance abuse among our students.”

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