By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
CATSKILL — What looks like a standard highlighter pen, tube of lipstick or USB drive could mask a sneaky alternative use — a tool to smoke drugs.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, state and county officials held a press conference at the Freightmaster’s Building in Catskill recently to demonstrate how objects that appear to be standard household items could, in reality, be a pipe to smoke marijuana, tobacco or other forms of smokeable drugs.
The problem is compounded by the fact that marijuana is now legal in New York state for adult recreational use, Tague said.
He held up what looked like a regular yellow highlighter, but when he removed the cap, the object houses a small pipe.
“What looks to most of you as an innocent highlighter, one that any student might have in their backpack or maybe in their desk… but upon closer inspection, this isn’t an ordinary, everyday highlighter. This can also be used to smoke drugs,” Tague said. “That’s troubling.”
The highlighter was purchased at a store in Greene County, he said. Tague added that he doesn’t want to “vilify” local businesses, but wants to make parents aware of what is out there.
“It is up to us as adults to be diligent about what our kids are up to and how they may be hiding it from us,” Tague said. “These disguised pipes come in many different varieties, mimicking all kinds of household objects — they sometimes are called stash jars used to store marijuana and other things that kids would rather you not know that they have or that they exist.”
These types of deceptively designed items are targeting young people, he added.
“We wanted to raise awareness of just how crafty companies are and kids have gotten in hiding drug use from their parents and also the dangers of the use of marijuana by minors,” the assemblyman said. “It’s common knowledge in the scientific community that a child’s brain doesn’t stop growing until roughly the age of 25. With much of the substantive development occurring during adolescence, marijuana use can affect how connections are formed within a teen’s developing brain. More than that, marijuana use has been found to affect learning skills and memory recall, and can become an addictive habit on a psychological level, if not a physical one.”
He urged parents to talk to their kids about drug use.
“The best tool in fighting drug use is open, honest communication based not solely on discipline, but on understanding,” Tague said.
Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, who is running for Congress in the 19th District, also spoke and pointed to the easy access teens have to drugs.
“We know that, in particular, our kids are under a great deal of stress, a great deal of pressure, and the last two-and-a-half years have created a heightened amount of anxiety,” Molinaro said. “We know that broad access to drugs in all forms, and in particular opioids, have taken far too many lives and far too many opportunities from our kids. We have seen too many lives cut short.”
Greene County Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, who is also a teacher at Catskill Elementary School, said awareness is key.
“It’s important for us to bring awareness to parents, teachers, guidance counselors, of what is out there and what is targeting our youth,” Luvera said. “We should all be aware and help kids and teenagers make better choices.”
Karen de Peyster from Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties said there are many forms drug pipes can take.
“This is only one example,” de Peyster said, holding up the yellow highlighter. “There are vaping devices that look like erasers, thumb drives, there is clothing specially designed so you can hide them. It’s a whole industry that has developed around this subterfuge. It’s a major concern for parents and for schools, but I urge parents not to forget that nicotine is also a drug and a very addictive one. Many vaping devices deliver strong concentrations of nicotine — it’s very easy for young people to develop dependence very quickly.”
Greene County Sheriff Peter Kusminsky noted that there are all types of products that disguise pipes that can be used for drugs. They can be purchased locally and online.
“It’s shocking to me to go to these lengths to disguise this stuff,” Kusminsky said. “We need to pay attention to what our kids are doing. Speak to them if you notice anything at all that seems odd. Talk to them before it’s too late. As a community, we need to keep them safe.”
Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said his office has prosecuted many drug dealers and has seen how they are targeting younger people now.
“Drug dealers target our young. They target college students, they have been targeting high school students and more recently, we have seen them targeting junior high students,” Stanzione said. “They figure the younger they can get these kids addicted, the longer they will have customers. That has become a real problem. Keeping drugs out of our schools is a community effort.
“We need to be aware of the dangers lurking around us.”