Schools Struggle to Curb Troubling New Trend of Drug Laced Vaping

A growing number of schools and councils across the UK are sounding alarms over an increase in students vaping illegal substances like cannabis.

These vaping devices are being repurposed to inhale tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in cannabis. Several concerning incidents have already occurred where students have been rushed to the hospital after using these illicit vapes.

Headteachers report that it’s becoming more difficult to detect these vapes, as THC is odourless unlike nicotine vapes which tend to have strong smells. Students are able to easily conceal the THC vapes.

Specific Incidents and Concerns

In one instance earlier this year, 3 students from Burnley Unity College were hospitalized after smoking a vape suspected of containing THC. In another incident in September, 2 pupils from Saddleworth School ended up in A&E after being given a vape laced with THC on a school bus.

Glyn Potts, headteacher at Newman RC College shared that a 13-year-old student collapsed after taking a deep inhalation from an illicit vape he obtained from his older brother. The boy had to be rushed to hospital.

Potts explained that vaping devices are being tampered with – “broken into” – in order to insert the THC or other drugs. He has noticed a growing problem with students repurposing normal vapes for nefarious means.

Attempts to Address the Issue

A “response system” now exists in Oldham, where if a student collapses, the school can quickly confiscate the vape and hand it over to the police for testing. This aims to address the issue rapidly.

While confiscations of illicit vapes at Newman RC College have been minimal this school year, Potts remains concerned about the 3% of pupils he estimates are using them. He explains that most vape usage happens outside of school.

In October, Middlesbrough Council issued a stark warning to parents after dozens of vapes confiscated from students at a local school tested positive for illegal substances.

Councils like Brighton & Hove and Hampshire have also warned about the alarming rise of vaping among youth and the use of unregulated, dangerous vaping products.

The government has proposed cracking down on underage vaping and vape sales. Students are taught about the risks of drugs and alcohol in Relationships and Sex Education. But schools feel an urgent need to address this growing trend.

Headteachers have called for more support in this area.

Schools’ Response Strategies

Schools are responding in various ways to address this growing problem. Some are opting for harsher punishments and stricter enforcement of rules prohibiting vaping on school grounds.

Newman RC College has implemented a “three strikes” policy, where a student caught vaping three times will face permanent exclusion. The school views illicit vaping as “anti-social behaviour” warranting stern action.

Other schools like Saddleworth are using vape detectors, confiscating vapes when spotted, and relying more on police involvement. If vapes are confiscated, they are handed to the police for testing rather than returned.

Awareness campaigns are being launched as well. Schools are holding special assemblies and sessions to educate students about the dangers of THC vapes. Some are bringing in external speakers and experts to present to students.

Engaging Parents and Students

Parent meetings are being held too. Letters are being sent home explaining the issue and urging parents to discuss it with their children. Resources on spotting illicit vaping are provided.

Counselling services are being offered in schools to identify and help students already engaged in using illegal vapes recreationally. The aim is to understand the motivations behind the behaviour through open conversations.

Differing Opinions on Solutions

Some teachers argue suspension and exclusion of students caught illicitly vaping only worsens the issue. It removes them from the school community and supervision. More holistic and rehabilitative methods are proposed instead.

While strict rules serve an immediate purpose, long-term cultural change is required, say experts. Normalising and glamorising drug use must be tackled through shifting attitudes. Building resilience and stronger youth-adult connections is key.

Community Outreach and Engagement

Outreach to disadvantaged communities where illicit vaping may be more prevalent is suggested. Partnering with local organisations and networks could help engagement efforts.

Access to alternative prosocial activities can also curb illicit vaping, say youth leaders. Providing music, arts, sports and other programmes gives bored teens productive options.

Advice for a Multi-Pronged Approach

Ultimately a combined approach of education, deterrence through proportionate discipline, building connections and offering support is advised. Each school must assess its own unique situation.

Photo “THC Vape” by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Testing

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

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