Helping parents discover some of the ways that teens keep evidence of both drugs and self-harm hidden from family members was the purpose of a recent program at the town’s youth center called “Hidden in Plain Sight.” Youngsters were told to clear out early on January 30, and the reason was kept from them by publicizing the session in a place that few teens frequent anymore, Facebook.
Megan Conroy and Maggie Smith of Poughkeepsie-based Family Services set up a mock bedroom and packed it with at least 75 suspicious items, far more than even the most industrious child is likely to use to secrete away contraband. Then, they allowed attendees — largely parents, along with employees of the youth center — just seven minutes to find as many as they could. The premise was that a child about which one has concerns has gone to take a shower, providing a limited window during which to investigate.
The internet is the ally of the sneaky: the bulk of the stash spots used were purchased on Amazon, although Conroy and Smith did purchase some drug paraphernalia at a local gas station. Online one can also find a vast amount of information simply by searching, “how can I hide my drugs from my parents,” including a number of ingenious techniques which couldn’t be used in the workshop because they involve taking apart existing equipment such as computers and wall outlets.
What attendees discovered is a wide array of ordinary items conscripted as hiding spots, as well as a number of ordinary-looking items that are manufactured with hidden features. Drugs can be slipped into notebooks or tape dispensers, for example; there might also be items such as cough syrup and air freshener lying around which themselves can be abused. Clothing with a drug-positive message might be a signal that a teen identifies with a subculture of users, but some — including pants, shirts, hats and sneakers — have hidden pockets built right in. There are many stash containers sporting brand names: Coca-Cola and Pringles containers with removable bottoms were among the hiding spots included. Other items designed for secrecy included batteries, lint rollers and hardcover books with a hiding spot built right in (although hollowing out an existing book remains an option to a teen unable to purchase such products). There are also items intended to evade a closer inspection, such as name-brand water bottles that come with extra caps. One fills up the bottle with a clear alcohol, and then screws up one of the special caps which creates what looks like an unbroken seal, and slipping booze into a school or concert venue where only unopened bottles are permitted is a snap. Another devious device was the working computer mouse which had a gram scale hidden under the cover; that’s clear evidence that the kid is not just using, but selling.
Also included were items that are clues, such as the “sploof” — a toilet paper roll with a fabric-softener sheet secured over one end to hide the smell of smoke — and copper wool, which is used as a filter in crack pipes (and was being sold right at the register of a local gas station, suggesting it’s a popular item in town).
Regularly sweeping a child’s room for evidence of wrongdoing will likely do more harm than good if there isn’t any reason to be suspicious, but warning signs can include behavioral or mood changes as well as unfamiliar items showing up.
Conroy and Smith also shared preliminary findings from the most recent survey of youth behaviors, which indicate that marijuana and alcohol are the most likely substances to be used for kids in seventh through 12th grades, with roughly 20% reporting have used each of those recently. It’s assumed that teens are not entirely honest about these behaviors, and that if that many are reporting drinking and using cannabis, the true number is likely higher still. On the plus side, cigarettes appear to be in sharp decline thanks to many years of concerted effort, although the survey questions did not address vaping as a separate nicotine-delivery method. Full results of the survey should be posted to familyservicesny.org in the near future.
One conversation that ensued during the debrief was whether or not a ban on selling drug paraphernalia, similar to the one now in effect in Newburgh, would be appropriate in New Paltz, a community where businesses from skate shops to gas stations prominently display such merchandise.
For those interested in seeing the sneakiness for themselves, this free workshop will again be offered on March 13, this time at the New Paltz Rescue Squad headquarters on North Putt Corners Road.