'It was happening everywhere around the school': Hamilton students getting more involved in fight against vaping, drug use

Mike Rutledge, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
·5 min read

Feb. 20—Alexis "Lexi" Spurlock, a senior and student council president at Hamilton High School, has witnessed how vaping and other forms of drug abuse have affected her fellow students.

"It was just really sad seeing that all these kids felt like they had to turn to vaping because of maybe what was going on with their lives, or maybe they were just bored," Spurlock recently told Hamilton City Council.

She and others explained efforts that are now intensifying by the Hamilton Prevention Partners Coalition to investigate why students in middle and high schools feel the need to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs. The study is specific to Hamilton.

With the aid of a $625,000 drug abuse prevention grant awarded over the next five years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a battle will be fought to to help students aged 12 to 18 quit or never start using.

Advocates for healthier living, led by the organization Envision Partnerships, are looking for adults and students like Spurlock who want to make a difference.

"I really have been able to see first-hand how especially vaping usage, and substance-abuse overall have controlled the life of many of my peers," Spurlock told city officials.

In the spring of 2019, Hamilton school officials were so concerned they launched an intense campaign, involving metal detectors and searches of students, their lockers and vehicles parked on school property.

During Spurlock's sophomore year, "they really had to crack down on vaping, and we have to get searched when we enter the school," she said. "Vaping became a really big issue. And they had to talk to a lot of kids about it because it was happening everywhere around the school. In the parking lot. People would go to the bathroom during class to vape."

That helped her realize the intensity of the urge to vape.

"And I'm just really excited to help these people try to figure out a solution, so not only is it helping the kids around me, but also the future generations of Hamilton who will be able to grow up in a better environment and have better resources to not have to turn toward substance abuse," she said.

Vaping in secret

Astrid Gomez, a youth coalition coordinator for the program who graduated from Hamilton High School in 2015, is especially concerned about students concealing their actions.

"It's so scary how well kids are able to hide things like that," she said. "You used to think that you knew your kid."

But many parents have no idea their kids are using e-cigarettes, which can resemble pens or computer flash drives, and vaping usually gives off no scent that clings to people and their clothing like cigarettes and marijuana do.

"I grew up in Hamilton, and I've seen some of the damage that young substance-use has done to peers, and what happens to them when they do use alcohol or marijuana or tobacco," Gomez said.

Alcohol has long been the most-abused substance among youth, but vaping in 2020 toppled alcohol as the most-abused drug among local youth.

When Butler County students were asked in 2020 whether they used drugs during the prior 30 days: — 14.1 percent said they had vaped, up from 11.6 percent in 2018 — 12..2 percent said they used alcohol, 0.7 percentage points lower than 2018 — 10.2 percent used marijuana, up slightly from 2018 — 3.2 percent used tobacco, well down from about 16 percent in 2010 — 3.1 percent used prescription drugs

There are many ways the students may help others avoid using such drugs, Gomez said. Those efforts will be specific to Hamilton, with the recommendations for events and other things, such as anti-drug poster campaigns, students feel will motivate their peers.

"We do not know all the issues that youth are going through today. We can see it from our perspective, but we can't see it from their perspective," Gomez said.

"We hope we can get youth and be resources to them, to lead them and mentor them to be able to lead and mentor youth around their age, to make better decisions and have a happier and healthier Hamilton."

One way students can join the effort is to email her at agomez@envisionpartnerships.com. Middle-schoolers and Hamilton private-school students are invited. Middle-schoolers can also attend Pastor Shaq Mathews' fun HYPE events at 228 Court St. Information about HYPE is at hypehamilton18@gmail.com or 513-899-6181.

Vaping is dangerous — As of February, 2020, 2,807 people were hospitalized because of e-cigarette, or vaping use across the country. — Of those hospitalized, 66 percent were male. The median age of hospitalized patients was 24 years and ranged from 13 — 85 years old. By age group category: 15 percent of patients were under 18; 37 percent of patients were 18 to 24; 24 percent were 25 to 34; and 24 percent were 35 or older. — And 68 deaths were confirmed nationwide. The median age patients who died was 49.5 years and ranged from 15-75 years. — Of the hospitalized patients, data were available for 2,022 about their substance use. 82 percent of them reported using THC-containing products; 33 percent reported only using THC products; 57 percent reported using nicotine-containing products; and 14 percent reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.

The Ohio Tobacco Quit Line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, offers free resources, including quit coaches for quitting tobacco and vaping products.