9.27.21 Vape press conference

School officials confiscated hundreds of vapes from students.

Local law enforcement officials are steamed about an ongoing problem with students, and school officials are going to help them crack down on it.

Vaping is “such a problem now,” school rules need to be updated to reflect the seriousness of the offense, Sgt. Jake Driskell of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Division said at a press conference with Sheriff Joe Berlin and Jones County Schools Superintendent Tommy Parker on Monday morning.

“It’s a cool thing, the cultural norm now,” Driskell said, “but there’s no good regulation” of the substances that are being inhaled from the electronic cigarette. There are reports of students selling hits off a vape in the bathroom for $2, and some students who have vaped substances on school grounds had to receive immediate medical attention.

“Several students have taken a hit and passed out,” he said.

There have been cases in other parts of the state where the liquid that’s “smoked” contained fentanyl, Driskell said. But there’s currently no way for law enforcement, school officials or users to distinguish the dangerous oils from the ones that are supposedly harmless. 

Because of that, schools will update their policy from treating vape usage the same as traditional tobacco products when it comes to discipline, Parker said.

“The fact that a narcotics officer is here talking about this should let parents know the seriousness of this problem,” Parker said, adding that it is a problem at all local middle and high schools.

In the past, students caught with vapes could get in-school suspension, but not much else. But now, they could face out-of-school suspension and even expulsion then get sent to the alternative school, depending on factors such as their discipline record and the nature of the offense.

“We need a more serious penalty,” Parker said. “We’ve got to get the attention of parents and students. It’s a universal problem. Other schools in the Pine Belt are fighting this problem, too.”

Vape dealers can “go to a trailer park and buy anything to put in there and sell it because no one regulates it,” Driskell said. Some of the dealers buy CBD oils for $110 and dilute it to sell several bottles for $20 to $25 each. Some of the bottles have been found to contain substances such as the active ingredient in antifreeze and “harsh metals,” Driskell said. 

Some of the CBD-marketed products release THC — the substance in marijuana that causes the “high” feeling — after it’s heated up.

There is no current test for local officials to determine on the spot if illegal or otherwise harmful substances are in the oils that are inhaled. It takes about a year to get test results back from the state crime lab — an expense that isn’t practical for pursuing a misdemeanor, Driskell said.

“We are currently looking at a new liquid tester,” he said.

In the meantime, all vapes in schools will be treated as if they do contain illegal substances. Law enforcement and school officials also want parents to know that vaping is not the safe alternative to smoking many of them believe it is. 

Current laws don’t reflect that either because e-cigarettes can be purchased by 18-year-olds while tobacco products require that the purchaser and user be 21.

“We’ve got high schools calling and parents calling, saying that straight-A students are sleeping in class,” Berlin said of kids using vapes. “Parents need to know that it’s not OK and it’s going to stop. That starts at home.”

Driskell plans to educate local educators and students about the problem and how harmful vaping can be, and Parker said he appreciated that.

“We need parents to help, too,” he said.

The JCSD is also cracking down on stores that sell the oils that have caused some of the bad reactions to underage students.

“We have bought from two stores recently, and we’re going to arrest them, make an example of them,” he said. “We’ve got to stop this and hold them accountable.”

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