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Parents experience eye-opening education at Top Secret Project

A typical teen's bedroom display was set up on the auditorium stage during The Top Secret Project during a drug education presentation held Tuesday at Park Rapids Area High School. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)1 / 2
A simple bed and bedroom floor reveals some potential not so obvious hazards including a slit cut in flip-flops used to conceal pills. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)2 / 2

Everyday items in a teenager's bedroom can be places to hide drugs in plain sight and parents should be aware of these potential hazards. Would you ever think a slit cut in the bottom of a flip-flop is a hiding place for pills? How about fake soda cans? Is the apple on the dresser more than just an innocent piece of fruit?

Parents and other concerned community members learned during the Top Secret Project held Tuesday at Park Rapids Area High School more about how unsuspecting items often be identified as indicators of drug use and other behavior that put teens at risk.

A bedroom was set up on stage giving people a closer look at what teens could do to hide their drug and alcohol use.

Debbie Haas attended the event and said she thought the display and presentation were very informative.

"I was surprised that you can use fruits and vegetables to smoke a drug, cut out the inside of a book to hide items, cut a flip flop and hide a pill," Haas said.

She also learned how some young people consume alcohol through their eye or by soaking items and eating or inserting into their body. Much of what Haas learned is good information as a parent and community member, including how easy it is to find information on illegal and dangerous activity online.

"I did feel the information was valuable to know," Haas said. "I have talked with my husband and other people at work and church letting them know some of the highlights that I remembered. They also were surprised at some of the information."

The Top Secret Project is a traveling exhibit designed to help recognize unfamiliar hazards that are often in plain sight. Using a simulated teenager's bedroom, the interactive exhibit includes hundreds of items that when seen through an educated lens, could be a signal that there's a problem.

Hubbard in Prevention (HIP) hosted the event in the high school auditorium with the exhibit and presentation by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

Amidst the clutter of clothing scattered on the floor, school supplies on a desk and personal care products on a vanity there are more than 150 items that can actually be signals that a young person could be involved in risky, harmful or even illegal activity.

The presentation by Jessica Wong and Candee Palmer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation provided participants with insights into some of the items in the room and identifies how each can signal a warning about alcohol or other drug use, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, bullying, criminal or gang activity, and other mental health concerns.

"We want to talk to you about the very real dangers that face our kids and it's not every kid. Not every kid is addicted and not every kid will develop an addiction," Wong said during the presentation. "It's important we have the conversation to help keep our healthy kids healthy and prevent them from going down those roads."

The presenters identified three types of items in a the display of a typical bedroom: Obvious items like pipes and other drug paraphernalia; not-so-obvious hiding spots, like secret compartments in clothing and other things used to conceal items; and decoy items.

"What we really hope to accomplish is to get you to look at things differently, and ask yourself the question 'What could this be a representation of?'" Palmer said.

Some drug delivery systems could potentially include a trumpet mouthpiece, inhaler, highlighter or an apple used as a pipe to smoke marijuana. Some necklaces and bracelets are also manufactured to be converted into pipes. Information on these items and ideas for drug delivery systems are easily found online.

Common and not-so-common alcohol delivery systems include Jell-O shots, alcohol-soaked gummy bears and other candy. Wong pointed out kids generally don't like the taste of alcohol so could use these as a way of easy and dangerous consumption. A couple delivery systems that drew a gasp from some audience members included injecting alcohol directly into the eye or alcohol-soaked tampons.

Some unique hiding places for pills and other drugs include makeup containers, lip balm containers, glue sticks and deodorant containers.

Inhalants produce a chemical vapor that can be used intentionally to get high. Common inhalants include whippets, whipped cream, air freshener, electronic duster, gasoline, glue, hairspray, nail polish remover, paint thinner, etc.

A complete index of items potentially hazardous to teens was provided to participants at the presentation.