Although the social stigma of drug abuse may have seemed a world away from a subdued gathering on the sunlit patio of Steel Club in Lower Saucon Township earlier this month, the pain shared by attendees whose lives have been shattered by it was very real.
The gathering at the heart of the dichotomy was a “Thirsty Thursday & Theology” public forum hosted by Christ Lutheran Hellertown and led by Pastor Phil Spohn. The featured guest was Lower Saucon Township Police Chief Tom Barndt. And the subject was the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic gripping many parts of the United States.
Barndt sought to educate a group of attendees that were generally middle-aged or older about the dangers teens in particular now face when it comes to drugs, including teens in Saucon Valley.
Instead of booze and weed, today’s teens are much more likely to party with prescription pills, including highly addictive opiates such as Oxycontin, he said.
The increasing availability of Narcan–a prescription nasal spray that can reverse a potentially deadly drug overdose in seconds–has only fueled the pill party trend.
Barndt said that at a “pill party” teens may designate a Narcan buddy who will stand by with the spray in case someone overdoses.
“‘This friend is going to bring me back, hopefully,'” is the thinking, he said.
Often high-value pills are pilfered from home medicine cabinets and resold to teenage peers, which is why the Lower Saucon Police encourage local residents to make use of their Unused Medication Disposal Box, which is located in the front lobby of the Lower Saucon Police Department at 3700 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem.
Residents can place unwanted or no longer needed medications in the box anonymously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no charge to residents for the service and no requirement to provide personal information or identification when using the box.
Using it helps keep powerful pain pills out of the hands of current and potential future addicts, Barndt said.
Inside schools, the abuse of pills isn’t as common as it is behind closed doors, although nurses are equipped with Narcan and police K-9 units can alert to the presence of prescription drugs in lockers, just as they would with heroin or marijuana, he explained.
The bigger drug problem in schools involves vaping or juuling, Barndt said.
Electronic cigarettes, vape pens and Juul devices can be used to discretely inhale concentrated substances like THC oil (the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana) that are placed in them.
Barndt said parents should know what the common physical signs of drug abuse are, such as pinpoint pupils, which can be a symptom of opioid use.
A special trailer the police use can also help educate parents about where to look for contraband in their children’s rooms.
For example, Barndt said, hollowed out items in which teens are able to conceal drugs are readily available for purchase online, where there is a lot of information kids can and do access related to the concealment of both drugs and drug abuse.
“If you see something, say something,” Barndt advised everyone in attendance at the talk, which included a question-and-answer session that also elicited some personal stories about individuals who’ve lost their battles with addiction. “People need to help people.”
The Lower Saucon Township Police Department’s Crimewatch page lists resources that are available to anyone who believes a friend or loved one may be abusing drugs, and the department is also now part of an initiative called the PAIR program, which allows police to prioritize the treatment of addiction over punishment.
As long as they have no outstanding warrants, “they will not be arrested (even) if they have drugs (in their possession),” he said.
Any drugs in their possession will be confiscated and destroyed, and a PAIR counselor will be called to the police station to help place them in a treatment program.
Barndt said the program was only implemented at the start of April and within three days someone battling addiction had already received assistance.