Vaping, opioids unique danger to teens; Bristol…


As the overdose epidemic continues to hit Bristol County and Massachusetts hard, teens and children face unique dangers from drug use, especially vaping, local advocates say.

“It’s really become a commonality in all of the schools,” said Marc Dunderdale, a prevention coordinator with SSTAR, a leading substance use treatment provider in the region.

Dunderdale said vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes is by far the biggest trend they at SSTAR see among young people in terms of drug use.

“It’s something that’s so new, we’re constantly working on improving our prevention tactics,” he said.

Alyssa Jusseaume, another of SSTAR’s prevention coordinators, said she’s heard about middle school students as young as 11 who have started vaping.

Part of the problem, she said, is vapes with “fun” fruit and candy flavors that appeal to teens and even children.

“It’s very obvious it’s being marketed to them,” she said.

Flavored vapes have been banned in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island in recent years, but some young people are already hooked.

Another problem, she said, is the pervasive idea that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.

“But in reality, we know that it’s as bad or maybe worse,” she said.

Cold cases solved: A thousand Bristol County rape kits were never tested. Here’s why the DA is changing that

Drawing comparisons between tobacco and vaping

Marilyn Edge, the retired tobacco director for a Department of Public Health-funded anti-drug use organization called the Fall River Collaborative, said she’s noticed that same problem among young people. She still works in drug-use prevention.

It took decades to get a handle on stopping traditional tobacco products from being sold to minors and get the message out about how dangerous they are. Now, she said, they’re back at square one with teaching young people about the dangers of vaping. 

“Kids tell me all the time, ‘I don’t smoke, I vape,’” she said. “But it’s the same thing.”

While vapes might not be as lethal as cigarettes, they’re still far from safe. They still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and other harmful chemicals and heavy metals.

A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggested that using e-cigarettes was linked to increased odds of lung disease, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

“We’re raising a generation of students who, by the time they’re 30, are gonna have lung disease,” Edge said.

History of the CPA: Fall River OK’d the Community Preservation Act 10 years ago. Has it been worth the money?

Opioids still a threat

While vaping might be the more visible example of drug use among young people, opioid addiction and overdoses are still a danger.

Lillian Tetreault of the Taunton Opiate Task Force said the emergence of the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl, which is now linked to most fatal overdoses, has exacerbated the problem.

And the pandemic has driven more young people to turn to substance use as a coping mechanism. She’s seeing “younger and younger” people using drugs, even hard drugs like opioids, as time goes on.

“The isolation has really taken its toll,” she said. “It’s not just high school anymore.”

Dunderdale said he’s also seen a dangerous trend of counterfeit pills; teens may sometimes think they’re buying a drug like Adderall but are actually buying pills laced with fentanyl.

According to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bristol County saw 290 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021, an increase of more than 300% over a decade, up from the 82 fatal opioid overdoses in 2011. Out of the 14 counties in the state, only Middlesex and Suffolk County saw more opioid overdose deaths than Bristol, with 360 and 295, respectively.

In 2021, there were 119 confirmed opioid overdose deaths among people in Massachusetts between the ages of 15 and 24.

‘Liberty is at stake’: Missing Fall River police drug logs put criminal cases in jeopardy

Programs aimed specifically at young people

SSTAR has several programs directed at curbing opioid and other drug use specifically among young people. The “MeB4Use” social media campaign aims to encourage teens to make healthy choices, while the BOLDER (Building our Lives Determined Empowered and Resilient) Coalition brings young people together for regular meetings to discuss things like healthy coping mechanisms and current trends in drug use and prevention.

Lori Gonsalves is the driving force behind Cory’s Cause, an organization aimed as educating youth about the dangers of drug use.

Her son, Cory Palazzi, was a varsity baseball player in Taunton when he got surgery for a baseball injury and became addicted to prescription painkillers in 2013. An opioid overdose left him permanently disabled; now he has trouble with things like balance and fine motor skills and often requires a wheelchair.

Now, they give presentations at schools to answer questions and shed light on how easily addictions can develop.

“The biggest feedback we get from kids is, they didn’t realize they could become addicted from a prescription,” she said.

Audrey Cooney can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.

Like it? Share with your friends!



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *