WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – A student walking down the hall of their school, chewing on the string from their sweatshirt, meant very little years ago. Now, teachers wonder if the teenager is inhaling a drug.
Toll Gate High School principal Candace Caluori says that sweatshirt string could be attached to a vape pen in the pocket of the hoodie. And inside the pen, a cartridge – or “cart” – of the drug THC, which is the chemical that gives marijuana it’s psychoactive effects.
Caluori said her staff works “very hard to stay current with what’s going on.”
“How they market to our youth is unreal,” Caluori said, adding they have been shown vape devices that look like inhalers to treat asthma. “How am I supposed to determine whether that’s an inhaler or whether that’s someone ingesting THC?”
As Target 12 reported, the popularity of vaping has given rise to THC use by adolescents in Rhode Island schools. Teenagers are inserting THC carts into vaping devices, and those cartridges are often loaded with an oil that is sometimes 90% or more in THC potency.
In just a four-month period this academic year, four Toll Gate students were taken away in a rescue after having an adverse reaction to the drug. In all, five students in all of Warwick have been removed by ambulance from school in the last year.
“They are dramatic, frightening incidents for not only the nurse, the student, but our administrators and teachers,” Caluori said. “To watch a kid struggle to breathe, or a kid … think that they’re having a heart attack or that they’re having a psychotic break and they don’t know where they are, and they don’t know what’s happening.”
Other schools have also reported similar incidents this year. The police chief in Barrington said they had to send a rescue at least twice to the high school for students who had a bad reaction to the drug. It happened twice in Coventry and at least once at Mt. Hope High School in Bristol.
Caluori said they’ve learned students are getting THC online and “from people who have maybe medical cards for that and then sell it on the black market.”
“One of our sources said that it came from a student at one of the local colleges who was getting a hold of it and actually had put it out on Snapchat,” Caluori said.
It was a similar situation in Richmond last March when a 17-year-old was arrested on drug possession and intent to deliver charges. Along with a list of other drugs, police discovered nine “commercially packaged” carts “with a potency range of 92%-93.01% THC,” according to a news release at the time.
In the top drawer of Toll Gate Assistant Principal Timothy Kane’s desk is a scattered array of paraphernalia confiscated in recent months, including devices to ingest nicotine and THC. Some look like a USB device, and others have gotten considerably smaller, making it harder for teachers to spot.
“A lot of times what we’re finding is some of these devices come in multiple pieces,” Kane said. “Students can walk around with the mouthpiece, somebody else has the cart, then they can get together.”
He said the vapor dissipates quickly, so it has to be spotted early.
“If you catch it initially right off the go, you can typically – if you smell into it – you can smell the THC,” he said. “But other than that, it’s real quick.”
The devices are turned over to Warwick Police where they are destroyed, and sometimes a student is given a citation.
“If you bring drugs into a high school our policy is it warrants a suspension of up to five days,” Kane said. “There’s always an educational component of them to try to give them information on you know why this isn’t good for you.”
Hannah Dickison contributed to this report