Fla. (CNN) – Smoke-free devices like e-cigarettes have become a popular way to break the nicotine addiction. Vapor pens, for example, allow smokers to control the amount of nicotine they receive.
But the devices are also being used to smoke synthetic drugs, which can be dangerous, as well as hard for police to detect.
On any given afternoon, Broward County deputies come across drugs this. This is flakka – just one of the inexpensive synthetic drugs ravaging south Florida — and there’s a new twist that’s making fighting these drugs even harder: e-cigarettes or vape pens.
Lieutenant Ozzy Tianga from the Broward Sheriff’s Office said, “It’s just a huge challenge. It’s affecting our entire communities from prevention to rehabilitation.”
Lt. Tianga says vaping drugs is so discreet, teens can do it right in school. “There is no scent. They can sit in the back of the room, and they think it’s funny. They are vaping and what they are vaping, again, I cannot determine.”
It used to be that if you would try to get high, it would smell. But Tianga says, all that has changed. That same secrecy makes it tough for police to know what’s inside that vape pen. They have to get it tested by a lab.
(Sara Ganim) “You can’t determine what’s in it right away?”
(Lt. Ozzy Tianga/Broward Sheriff’s Office) “Not at all. In fact, these individuals can smoke it right in front of you.”
A recent CDC study found e-cigarette use more than tripled among middle and high schoolers in 2014. It’s not known how much of that is drug-related, but young vape users are posting videos of themselves getting high on YouTube.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is so concerned because synthetics can be so dangerous, no matter how they’re ingested.
DEA Supervisory Special Agent John Scherbenske said, “We’ve seen time and time again where someone has overdosed and died. There are a significant number of overdoses that are occurring related to these types of drugs.”
All of this is so new, no one’s keeping track.
No one knows just how many people have been injured or have died from vaping synthetic drugs. But already emergency rooms are seeing an increase, and the stories are disturbing.
Dr. John Cunha from Holy Cross Hospital said, “I have had patients in my practice in the emergency room, that I have walked in on, that are actually vaping at the bedside,”
Doctor Cunha says recently, a patient was discharged after an overdose, and went into a hospital bathroom on his way out of the hospital. There, he vaped more drugs, and had to be taken back to the ER.
Dr. Cunha says, “I think that these devices do have a role in helping people get off of actual cigarettes, and that they may be proven safer in that case. But in the hands of teenagers and drug abusers, they are definitely very dangerous thing to have.”
The thing to remember is that these are not classified as drug paraphernalia, so there’s no federal age limit on who can buy them, although many states have restrictions. And these shops are popping up everywhere, not to mention they can easily be bought on the internet.
Now, the industry says that vaping is a good thing for a lot of people; that it’s helping people to quit smoking, not start smoking. They say everything is subject to abuse by drug addicts. Of course, there is a study that show that many of the teens that vape never smoked before.
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