‘Mad Chemist’ Lynn Riemer gives presentation at Summit Middle School on disguised youth substance use | SummitDaily.com

‘Mad Chemist’ Lynn Riemer gives presentation at Summit Middle School on disguised youth substance use

Lynn Riemer gives a presentation on trends in youth substance use at the Summit County Middle School on April 25.
Sawyer D’Argonne / sdargonne@summitdaily.com

These aren’t your mom’s substances.

Lynn Riemer, otherwise known as the “Mad Chemist,” gave a presentation to parents, faculty members and others at Summit Middle School late last month, hoping to bring community members up to speed on new trends in youth substance use.

At the presentation, Riemer discussed a wide variety of substances, from marijuana to drugs like fentanyl and heroin. However, much of the conversation was based around the ways in which youth are disguising their usage, and how much the landscape of drug use has changed over recent years.

“This is a different drug world today,” said Riemer, who travels the nation to inform parents and students about the dangers and new developments in the world of substances. “Kids are very savvy because of social media, and you can Google every drug you know of and there’s somebody glamorizing it on YouTube … and today, everything is about disguise.”

Perhaps of most concern to parents and others around Summit County is youth use of vaporizers, alcohol and marijuana. According to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — self-reported health information collected by the Colorado Department of Public Health every other year — Summit High School students consume marijuana and alcohol, and use vaporizers at higher rates than the rest of the state, while the use of other drugs is right on par with other students. Of note, Summit Middle School students reported lower rates of use than the rest of the state’s middle school students across the board.

According to the report, more than 40% of Summit High School students reported using a vaporizer within the past 30 days, compared to just 27% of students around the state. Similarly, over 41% reported recent alcohol use compared to 28% of the state and 22% reported recent marijuana use compared to 19% of the state.

“I don’t believe the kids understand all the types of drugs and how bad they are, even the vape pens which may taste good,” said Ann Hough, a parent and school district employee who attended Riemer’s presentation. “I think this education needs to be continual, so all these kids understand that the pot that’s out there now isn’t the pot of 30 years ago, and it’s the same with vaping.”

Hough has a point. According to Riemer, there was a 900% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students from 2011 to 2016, and while there’s no solid science yet on long-term effects, Riemer postulates they’re largely negative.

“Colorado is No. 1 in the nation in teen vaping,” said Riemer. “We’re still waiting on the science to see how they compare to things like cigarettes, but my question is has there ever been a scientific study showing that smoking anything is beneficial or healthy? Time will tell, but there are already things coming out showing things like irritation to the lungs, similar to smokers.”

Likewise, Riemer spoke to the dramatic changes to marijuana since legalization, both in potency and in variety.

“THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in the bud in Colorado is anywhere from 18% to 45% and rising,” said Riemer. “When a lot of us were kids it was only 2% to 3%, and in the mid-’80s and ’90s it got up to 5% to 7%. Every other country outside of North America won’t allow marijuana higher than 14% THC. … And now we have things like concentrates which are extremely pure, like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

As the use of marijuana and vaporizer products (both with nicotine and marijuana concentrate) increases, Riemer noted that kids are also getting much more creative in the ways they disguise substance use. She handed out a number of different trinkets to the crowd to demonstrate — including keychains that turn into pipes, dissolvable THC packets that look like tea and sugar packets, vaporizers that resemble iPods and even hoodies that conceal vape pens attached to the strings.

Riemer also said that the use of alcohol has become much more difficult to spot, as young people are turning to vaporizing it — known as AWOL or alcohol without liquid — in lieu of drinking it, or even inserting alcohol-soaked tampons to keep the smell of booze off their breath.

“When we’re talking about all the fun ways that people are using drugs today, you’re imagination should be endless,” said Riemer.

For more information on youth substance use trends, or ways in which they’re disguised, reach out to Riemer at trainings@actondrugs.org, or at 720-480-0291.

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