Health experts warning police about substance teens are using to get high

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Public health officials warned central Ohio law enforcement to be on the lookout for an international substance known as betel nut. The World Health Organization labeled it a carcinogen, but police said teens are chewing betel nut to get high.

Reynoldsburg police said they believe the substance was illegally imported to Columbus from Nepal or India. Police said a school resource officer has caught several high school students at the Summit campus who immigrated from Nepal with betel nut after they were seen acting dazed and disoriented.

"We believe there's a euphoric effect but it also seems to affect their equilibrium. There's a general loss of balance and coordination that goes along with the use of this product," said Reynoldsburg Police Chief Jim O'Neill.

Police said earlier this week a plain-clothes officer walked into an international market in the 7600 block of East Main Street and purchased an entire box of a product containing betel nut for just a few dollars.

"We walked right into the store, asked for it, they gave us a once over look and then provided us with a box full of these products," said Chief O'Neill.

10TV obtained a health report which revealed food inspectors from Franklin County Public Health targeted the store and found nearly a half dozen products containing betel nut, including "whole frozen betel nuts." Health workers said the store voluntarily opened all of the packages and discarded all of the product. 10TV visited the market Thursday and found no evidence of betel nut on store shelves.

Health experts said betel nut isn't a controlled substance but said studies have linked the substance to cancer of the mouth and esophagus, and to tooth decay.

Franklin County Public Health said inspectors are continuing to search markets for betel nut before it falls into the hands of more teens, and said the FDA and the Ohio Department of Agriculture are now involved in the investigation.