SALEM - Nearly 200 people filled the auditorium at the KSU Salem City Center Monday night to learn about crackers, purple drank, school buses, tar, molly and other slang names for popular drugs of abuse.
The main lesson retired Sgt. Michael Powell of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office said he wanted parents and others to remember from the Operation Street Smart program was this: pay attention.
"If it doesn't seem to make sense, you better take a close look," he said.
Powell jam-packed a ton of information on drugs into a four-hour session which revealed the tricks drug abusers use to hide their stash, the fact that every home contains items that can be abused and the little signs of drug abuse that people can miss.
He said parents need to be aware of all the issues and look for the little changes in their child, such as grades dropping or a change in appetite. They need to look for things out of place, but they also need to pay closer attention to the ordinary.
After the break, he asked attendees if they saw anything unusual up by the stage. He told them it wasn't anything spread out on the tables where he kept his visual aids, such as the drink bottles with fake bottoms where drugs can be hidden.
A few minutes later, he held up an ordinary-looking power strip that had been placed on the floor. The only problem was the power strip was not plugged in, but the light was still lit. The power strip wasn't a power strip at all - it had a hidden compartment. The light was operated by a battery.
He also told them he brought his lunch, packed in a small container. He pulled out what looked like a peanut butter sandwich in a plastic baggie, then revealed the zippers on the sandwich which was actually a pouch for hiding drugs or anything else someone may want to hide.
"You have to search everything in front of you," he said.
Powell went into detail about the different types of drugs out there, what they're called, how they're abused and what they can do to a body. Crackers refer to two-piece nitrous oxide cartridges that can be used for huffing. Purple drank refers to a codeine or hydrocodone cough syrup cocktail. Robo trippin' refers to the abuse of Robitussin cold medicine.
Tar refers to a form of heroin and molly is another word for the drug known as ecstasy.
He explained how Jolly Ranchers and Skittles can be used as part of a cough syrup cocktail drink mixed with clear-colored pop. He told how sandpaper or emery boards can be used to shave down prescription painkillers. He said little tar balls of heroin can be wrapped in aluminum foil or the foil can be used as part of the method of ingestion.
He told a story about a father who had been monitoring his son's social networking and saw a conversation between the boy and his friend about school buses. He thought they were talking about vandalizing buses. Powell had to explain to him they were talking about the drug Xanax, which in one form is yellow. Another form is referred to as purple footballs because it's purple and shaped like a football.
He talked about some popular music that openly refers to drugs such as molly and purple drank.
"It's just eye-opening," Kathie Chaffee said after the program.
Chaffee serves as executive director of the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, which served as a sponsor for the Operation Street Smart presentation.
"People have to be vigilant - drug problems can happen to anybody," she said. "We gotta stay informed."
She said the crowd included parents, grandparents, educators, police officers, clergy, social service providers and crime watch representatives. She was impressed with the community's response.
For Powell, this was his last program for awhile. He told the crowd the funding had run out and the rest of the programs they had scheduled for the year would be canceled and he wasn't sure if the grant funding would be continued next year.
The program was presented free of charge. The Franklin County Sheriff's Office had received a federal grant to take the program all over the state and Powell noted that he also talks in schools all over the state about drug abuse. He said law enforcement can't do it alone.
"In order to make a dent in this problem, we have to work as a community," Chaffee said.
In closing, Powell recommended several websites for people to visit, saying that www.drugfree.org was a great site for parents. Some of the other sites included: www.urbandictionary.com, www.dancesafe.org, www.streetdrugs.org and www.samhsa.gov.
Operation Street Smart has a Facebook page at Operation: Street Smart. A local website recommended by Chaffee was www.adaptcoalition.org which highlights local efforts by the group ADAPT.