Synthetic drug use up among teens, counselor warns


The number of teens Todd Hoffe works with who use plant food dropped slightly after the drug and other synthetics were banned last summer.

Maybe it was fear of prosecution, or of the powerful hallucinogen itself, the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center adolescent counselor said last week.

Either way, Hoffe said, within the past month he has noticed a resurgence.

He’s also noticed constant talk about a different man-made drug — synthetic marijuana, also called K2. A year-and-a-half ago, he would mention the substance and kids would ask him what is was.

Now they’re educating him.

A study released last December by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that one in nine high school seniors had tried synthetic marijuana in the past year. It can cause seizures and other dangerous side effects.

There aren’t specific numbers for states or cities, but Hoffe guesses, from what he has heard, that the percentage now is much higher.

To combat the use of synthetic substances and other drugs among teens, the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, Winona Senior High School principal Kelly Halvorsen and Cindy Althoff, director of the Miller Mentoring program, have proposed implementing a chemical-dependency treatment program this fall for high school students that would provide both substance abuse and mental health counseling.

Students would attend the free treatment in the morning at the former Central Elementary School building, then return to the high school in the afternoon for a half-day of classes. Participants would receive academic credit for the morning treatment.

“I don’t even know if there is a program around that looks like this,” Hoffe said earlier this month at a Winona Area Public Schools Board meeting.

“It’s very creative. It’s very now. It’s very needed.”

An pilot program with six students this fall would cost the school district an estimated $25,000.

Board members have expressed support and asked to see at a future meeting how much it would cost to expand the program, called Pathways, to a larger number of students. The board is scheduled to vote on the initiative at its meeting Thursday.

 

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