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Hidden, in the open: Mock bedroom offers clues to teen substance abuse

SALISBURY — It appeared to be the typical teen boy’s bedroom down to the poster on the wall, the basket of dirty laundry on the floor, the ball caps, dictionary, laptop, Pringles can and bottle of Febreze.

But there were signs everywhere of alcohol and drug use — 34 of them, in fact — as the YSUP Rowan Coalition demonstrated Monday evening with its “Hidden in Plain Sight” mock bedroom at the Salisbury Elks Lodge.

YSUP Rowan was host for the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours gathering, and the coalition staff encouraged chamber members to go through the mock bedroom and make note of all the signs that the imaginary teen in this room was using drugs and drinking alcohol.

Chamber participants were given a black-and-white photograph of the bedroom and could circle items they saw on the photograph.

That “420” poster on the wall was a clue — 420 is widely known to refer to smoking marijuana, particularly at 4:20 p.m. or, in more of a holiday-type celebration, on April 20 every year.

The Pringles potato chip can had a false bottom capable of hiding drugs. The dictionary on the shelf was actually a stash box, complete with a lock. A nickel bag was mixed amid the dirty wash.

The ball caps included a “stash hat” that had a pouch to hide drugs inside the lining.

A flash drive in the laptop was actually charging an e-cigarette, which delivers nicotine in a way different from traditional smoking.

On a window ledge behind the desk, the Febreze and bug spray bottles were empty — the kinds of bottles teens use to hide and carry alcohol.

Elsewhere in the bedroom, candles, incense and cologne sat on the tops of furniture. Teens often use these to hide the smell of pot smoking. There was a bottle of prescription drugs in a backpack and extra locks on the door.

Fake soft-drink labels that kids often use to disguise cans and bottles of beer also were present.

“That’s the cutest little elephant,” YSUP Rowan coordinator Liz Tennent said of an innocent-looking figurine that was actually a pipe.

The underside of a belt sported a zippered pouch for holding pot.

“This is just a small sample of the stuff you can find in shops and online,” Tennent said.

YSUP Rowan’s main focus is underage drinking and prescription drug use, while it also looks at trending data about tobacco, including vaping and electronic cigarettes such as JUULS.

In a broader sense, the YSUP Rowan Coalition aims to increase community collaboration about substance abuse issues and reducing it among youths.

Karen South Jones, executive director of the Rowan County Youth Services Bureau, has secured two major grants to go toward YSUP Rowan’s mission — a $625,000 Drug-Free Communities Grant that launched the coalition and a $101,000 grant in 2018 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

The Reynolds grant will go toward implementing a “collective impact model” in how Rowan County addresses substance abuse as a whole.

The $625,000 grant awards $125,000 a year for five years.

Jones told the chamber group to visualize three middle-aged women — herself, Tennent and staff member Gail Sce — going into a head shop in Winston-Salem and asking, “Where do you have the things you can hide your drugs in?”

Those items found homes in the mock bedroom. Monday evening was the unveiling of the mock bedroom, which the Elks Lodge helped finance.

“We’re going to take this on the road,” Jones said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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