BUZZED — Frontier Middle School students participated in a nationwide trend of sniffing crushed-up Smarties looking for a high, but are instead putting themselves and their health in danger. Photo by Alicia Greco.
HAMBURG — Concerns were recently raised, after Frontier Middle School students were discovered sniffing crushed Smarties® candy; an alert was later posted to the school’s website.
“We were informed by the principal that about 15 students were identified as participating in the crushing of and inhaling of the Smarties,” Frontier’s Interim Superintendent of Schools Paul Hashem said, adding that these students were spoken to about the dangers of their actions, by the school’s nurse, counselor and administration.
“The kids were quite surprised at this, and I think a little scared, too,” Hashem said. “This is the first [instance] I heard about in this area.”
Hashem said that, to his knowledge, other local superintendents have not experienced this type of use, in their schools.
Rather than receiving the rush they are seeking, these students are only putting their health in danger, according to physicians.
“If the Smarties do end up getting into the lung, then that can also cause infection,” Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gail Burstein reported. “It is an irritant; it can cause wheezing and maybe chronic cough and asthma and sinus complications. And, ultimately, if someone is allergic to sugar or the contents of Smarties, then they could end up having an anaphylactic reaction and dying.”
According to Burstein, possible risks include infections, choking, scarring, bleeding and possibly death.
This trend is not limited to just the Southtowns. A 9-year-old student at Porterdale Elementary School in Atlanta, Ga. was suspended, after inhaling the candy through his nose.
Jodie Altman, director of adolescent clinical services for Alcohol & Drug Dependency Services Inc., said that she believes parents need to become more involved in their children’s lives.
Altman explained that many factors could influence an adolescent to experiment with drugs. She said that adding drugs to the mix of hormones, bullying and peer pressure that comes at a young age creates a “recipe for disaster.”
She also reported that young people find it easiest to fit in with the groups of peers that use drugs, because they are most accepting of others. She said that, in her opinion, drug cliques in schools have a similar concept and makeup as gangs.
According to Altman, it is critical for parents to take an interest in their children’s lives and pay close attention to “late teenagers, as well as these young kids.
“Their room is in your house. You need to ask questions. You need to look; you need to pay attention,” Altman said. “You need to be a step ahead, because they’re always a step ahead of us.” She said that parents have every right to “keep an eye on things, and look through things.”
Defending her beliefs, she said that children are prone to developing a fixation on the concept of ritual, at an early age.
“I think we also glorify [drug use],” she said, referencing her concern for those who look up to music icons such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. According to some reports, Cobain attended a rehabilitation center and committed suicide afterward. Hendrix died of asphyxia, reportedly from barbiturates.
“I’m sure they were very talented people, but that’s who you idolize? That’s a concern for me,” Altman said.
She said that the media, specifically the Internet, is a huge influence on young people’s exploration into drugs.
“You got kids out there making bombs ... blowing up schools,” she said, adding that, while she is not sure where young people are learning these habits, she suggested that they may be gaining information from older siblings, YouTube™ or shows on TV.
Altman cited the processes of chopping a drug, cutting a line and sniffing add to the ritualistic draw of using.
Snorting drugs in powder form allows for quick exposure to the brain, providing a relatively instant high.
Altman pointed out that Smarties (or other powdered candies) will not provide a high, because the only thing that is being inhaled is sugar.
She said that her concern for those who partake is that, if the candy is not crushed up enough and is jagged, it could have the ability to do damage to the nasal membrane.
Those who choose to blow drugs continuously, and over an extended period of time, could develop a deviated nasal septum, according to doctors.
According to Hashem, Frontier parents were “quite surprised. A few of them were not only concerned, but angry,” that their children were involved in this use. He added that two parents took their children to an ear/nose/throat specialist, to check if there were residual issues from the candy inhaling.
Altman said that her organization is available to provide assistance, preventative measures and consultation. By offering interventions or linking adolescents with counselors, she said that her staff members will “know how to ask the questions” in a non-threatening way.
Altman also said she believes that this topic should be discussed with children even younger than 10 years old.
Saying that she is not concerned about the possibility of lost innocence in children, Altman said that it is more important that young people learn about the harms and dangers of drugs, as early as possible.
“The alternative is we don’t, and they figure it out from their friends,” she said. “There’s always going to be kids in the school who know stuff way too young.”
Hashem reported that the middle school students were not punished, because they technically did not break any rules.
“It’s not like it was a drug they knew was illegal, like heroin or crack, or smoking pot,” he said.
“It was decided, among the administrative staff at the middle school, to forgo punishment and make this a learning experience and speak to the kids and their parents of the dangers of this type of behavior,” Hashem added.
Teachers and staff members at Frontier Middle School were told to keep an eye out for Smarties and to confiscate these candies from students.