Program sheds light on what’s hidden

NAUGATUCK — Parents and community members strolled through what looked like a messy teenager’s bedroom. There was a clothes hamper, a bag back, and a desk with a laptop and food strewn on top of it. But as some who walked through the room looked closer, they found a baggie with “drugs” in it hidden inside a Pringles container.

The bedroom and the drugs weren’t real. They were part of the Hidden in Plain Sight and A Journey to Recovery program Sept. 25 at the Congregational Church of Naugatuck.

Step Up Naugy, the borough’s prevention council, hosted the event in collaboration with Naugatuck Youth Services and The Connecticut Association of Prevention Professionals.

The purpose of the mock bedroom was to shed light on how various types of substance use paraphernalia could be hiding in the open.

“They can dig through things and make their own discoveries. It’s really hands on,” said Nicole Wiley, Step Up Naugy coordinator. “If they find something, they talk about it.”

About two dozen parents and adult community members walked through the bedroom, lifting bedsheets and digging through a book bag and laundry hamper to find substances hidden carefully. Others searched thoroughly to locate vaping devices and other substances hidden in plain sight.

“I think a lot of parents are going to be surprised about the different ways the youth can disguise their substance use in everyday objects,” Wiley said. “Even though there’s been a lot of news about Juul and e-cigarettes, a lot of parents still don’t know what they look like. They’re designed to look like USBs.”

Vaping has become a hot topic, and many of the products in the bedroom workshop were specific to vaping.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, there have been 13 reports of people in the state hospitalized with severe lung injuries possibly related to using e-cigarettes or vaping.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration is looking to ban flavored vaping products to make them less attractive to underage youths.

A survey conducted by Naugatuck Youth Services in 2018 found that 10% of all Naugatuck middle and high school students vaped within 30 days of taking the survey.

Wiley believes that when parents don’t see anything, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. She said there doesn’t have to be a dramatic experience for someone to make the wrong decision.

“The best way to get to anyone, is for them to hear how it really happened,” said Stephen Hill, a recovering addict who spoke about his experiences with addiction and his recovery following the mock bedroom workshop. “This can happen to anyone. There’s a stigma attached to addiction. No one plans on becoming a drug addict. You don’t have to be an addict for bad things to happen.”

Hill said he was influenced by older peers to start using alcohol, marijuana and vaping with nicotine as a freshman in high school. He eventually went on to harder drugs, such as OxyContin, cocaine and heroin. Hill has been clean for seven years. He attends Brooklyn Law School and has been speaking about his life for four years.

“We’re hopeful that parents and community members are educated about the problems associated with substance use and how easy it is for kids to hide that they’re using,” Wiley said. “Everyone should be worried about it and everybody should have conversations with their kids about it any chance that they get.”