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'It’s a big problem': School leaders, student drug-prevention advocates concerned about rise in vaping

Information requests show vaping is prevalent and in some cases, it’s happening on school property.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Central Ohio school leaders and students involved in drug prevention programs say teens are using drugs that can be stealthy and difficult to detect.

Over the last three months, the CrimeTracker 10 team has requested records and information from school districts and law enforcement agencies from across central Ohio, regarding what kinds of drugs are being reported. 

The records show across 18 school districts cases of vaping have been reported in nearly all. 

Some cases involve cartridges with THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. In one case, a 16-year-old was carrying LSD.

There are new ways that schools are trying to curb this trend that’s happening inside our schools.

We followed school Resource Deputy Dan Fahy for an afternoon on the job at Franklin Heights High School in Columbus. It doesn’t take long to see he knows most kids on a first-name basis. 

He also knows what many students are interested in or the extracurricular activities they participate in. He’s not only a coach as well, but spends time volunteering with school activities outside the classroom.

Often, he’s the first one to know when there’s a concern.

“Having that responsibility of being the trusted adult or one of any type of trusted adult for a kid whether they're blood or not is a huge responsibility you can never take lightly,” he explained.

In his office, he has a drawer and pulls out a small test kit that’s used to detect THC in the vaping devices he finds. It takes only a few minutes to use. 

Fahy said on average he uses one of these kits once a month. He said since he started working at Franklin Heights High School in 2017, he has noticed an increase in vaping.

Franklin Heights High School is part of the South-Western City Schools District. According to the district, in the first nine weeks of this school year, there were 111 incidents involving the possession, use, sale, or distribution of tobacco – which includes vaping.

This is a trend we found in schools across central Ohio.

According to our CrimeTracker 10 map, there are four reports of students vaping THC oil at Reynoldsburg High School’s Livingston Campus since the beginning of 2022. That’s the most the high school has had according to our records.

Records from the Dublin Police Department show there were three drug-related arrests in 2021 in Dublin City Schools. All three involved high school students and vape products. 

In one of these cases, it was reported that four teens were found in a school bathroom vaping. They were put in a diversion program.

According to the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, a student was caught in September vaping in a bathroom at Buckeye Valley High School. No criminal charges were filed.

In March at Olentangy Berlin High School, a Delaware County Sheriff's Office report shows a student was caught vaping in the athletic wing of the school. The student was not charged and instead suspended and directed to drug counseling.

In one case from 2020 according to a Columbus police report, a student at Whetstone High School was caught in a bathroom in possession of LSD.

Vaping and, in some cases, alcohol have been reported involving students younger than high school.

According to a New Albany Police Department report, police were called to investigate a drug complaint at New Albany Plain Local Middle School in October. The report shows five vape pens had been found, along with four clear vials, "possibly containing THC oil."

THC can be difficult to detect because it looks similar to the cartridges that carry CBD oil.

In Marion County, the sheriff's office didn't provide a breakdown of incidents by individual school but did reveal its school resource officers have noticed something else of note this school year - alcohol from a personal water bottle or beverage container. They've handled two cases like this and both involved middle school students.

When it comes to vaping in Marion County schools, according to the sheriff’s office, the vast majority of cases are handled through the school’s disciplinary process. On occasion, a case will be submitted to the Marion County Prosecutor's Office - Juvenile Division for review and some of these cases will be subsequently referred to the court’s diversion officer.

"Most people have vapes ... it's a big problem,” said Sarah Bazell, a senior at Canal Winchester High School.

Bazell is a member of her school's local chapter of Drug Free Clubs of America.

"The benefits of this is that if any temptation to start using vapes or alcohol or drugs, being a member of this club will be give you a reason to be like I can't do that like no thank you. Just kind of like instead of like I don't want to it gives you an actual valid reason,” she explained.

Bazell said she's had to use that reason more than once and in all different scenarios.

"I would be hanging out with friends, or at a neighbor's house or at a party with friends," she said. “Finding the right way to say no is important. Because it can be very tempting."

Liv Wastier is a Circleville City Schools high school student who is involved in the drug prevention program there, called Club Future.

“It starts with, who you're friends with, and who you allow you like to influence you,” she explained. “And that's the awesome part of the club is to be like, these are the people that I know are going to be good influences and are going to make those good decisions around me.”

"Don't think, ‘if it's going to happen to me.’ Somebody is going to offer you a substance," said Deputy Laura Stahr from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Stahr has spent the last 16 years as a DARE Deputy. That program now starts in fifth grade for some schools.

"The biggest thing we're giving them is the DARE decision-making model to help them go through the steps to making a safe and responsible decision,” she explained. “Because the general nature of kids, especially in 5th grade is, impulsive."

Stahr and Fahy have more in common than the fact they work on drug prevention efforts and represent the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office: They are both parents of kids the same ages as the students they serve.

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After working nearly two decades in this capacity, and as a parent, Stahr said what concerns her most about teens and drug use is whether she has equipped her students and kids with everything they need. Meaning, the tools they need to make responsible decisions.

“Sometimes even the parents that do everything right, sometimes it just happens to be their kid that falls through the cracks,” she said. “And that parent is going to beat themselves up second-guessing themselves. ‘What did I miss? What didn’t I see?’….Sometimes even doing the best things sometimes even it’s not enough,” she said.

Both Stahr and Fahy offer honest advice for parents like themselves.

"Like every parent, you have to research what the kids are talking about,” said Fahy. “Listen whether they are talking to you or not, if they're on the phone or texting or tweeting with friends, listen to what they are talking about and then do your own research.”

"Get over the fear of not being your kid's friend,” said Stahr. “There is going to be a time later on when they are adults that you can be their friend. Now is when you need to help them navigate life. It is not easy."

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