Let’s Talk About It - What do we know?

Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 12/10/2021

We are just a few weeks away from the holiday break and I am still wondering where the time went. Our students have completed their first trimester of this school year and we all continue to adjust to all the challenges inside and outside our classrooms.

In past blogs I have shared ways to begin the conversation around substance use and I have also highlighted the negativity and stigma as being barriers and the need to normalize the conversation rather than avoid it. I know this from working with teens around substance use: We must continue to break down barriers, destigmatize the topic and normalize the conversation if we expect our students to trust and believe in the support provided. I also shared in prior blogs that I would be sharing information on what we are seeing in and around our district. I will preface this by reminding everyone that our district is not any different than any other school district when it comes to substance use issues. We are, however, fortunate to have some incredible partners in place to help us meet the needs of our students.

Recently, I attended a webinar hosted by “Tall Cop,” Jermaine Galloway. The webinar was very informative and I highly recommend attending a future presentation if possible. The webinar centered around those up and coming substances that literally hide in plain sight. It was also a stark reminder that as adults, we are often “behind the eight ball” when it comes to knowledge and understanding of what teens really do know regarding illicit substances. This is why I have decided to highlight the use of pressed pills.

You may already be asking yourself, “What is a pressed pill?” This is a great question and an important one. A pressed pill is a counterfeit pill that is made to resemble a prescription grade pill (think of a legal prescription of Percocet, Adderall, Xanax or similar), however, it has been mashed and cut with other ingredients to change the high and to make more pills which leads to more money. These counterfeit pills can be cut and pressed with fentanyl and other deadly drugs. This DEA information sheet has some great information and visuals that may help you understand how easy it is to mistake a counterfeit pill from a legally prescribed pill. These pills and many other varieties are in every community across the country. We are not exempt from this. It is a reality. The reason I decided to share this information is because we need to understand the importance of educating ourselves so we can educate our children. For those that leave unfinished prescriptions in your nightstand or medicine cabinet, please know that unless you discard them properly they can very well end up being pressed into additional pills with additional ingredients and end up on the street and in someone’s hand without our knowledge. Local pharmacies often have safety boxes where you can discard old or unfinished medications and there are many Take Back Days sponsored by local communities.

This past fall, the DEA issued a safety alert on fake prescription pills and WCCO aired a warning to the public that urged schools to prioritize pill warnings. The concern comes from the fact that students are unaware that it could take just one pill and the consequences can be deadly. Students often believe that taking someone else’s pain medications or anti-depressants or prescribed stimulants (similar to Adderall) is no big deal. It is. Students also believe that if they are told the pill is harmless or that it is actually what they think it is — it may very well be a counterfeit pressed pill and unless you are able to compare, you may not be able to tell the difference.

Again, I share to educate. I share in the hopes that you can begin a conversation. I share to remove stigma and to normalize the conversation. If we don’t do any of this, we will continue to lose loved ones to the ugliness of addiction and to the belief that no harm can come of it. Another point I want to make is that it takes just one pill, one time. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if you have been struggling with addiction for years or if you are trying a mood altering substance for the first time. It doesn’t matter.

I know this is heavy, but I believe it is important to share. I hope you feel the same way and that you know more and feel more comfortable having the conversation. As always, my hope is that you have enough information at your fingertips to help your student and if given the opportunity, you can say, “Let’s Talk About It!”

Colleen O'Neil

Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
Phone: 763-506-1145
Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us