Rutherford Polk McDowell Health District holds “Triangulum” meeting

Published 10:00 pm Friday, September 23, 2016

Dr. Basil Savitsky talked with local law enforcement, school leaders and hospital personnel on how to prevent children from getting addicted, calling nicotine “uncool, a drug and nasty.” (Photos by Michael O’Hearn)

Dr. Basil Savitsky talked with local law enforcement, school leaders and hospital personnel on how to prevent children from getting addicted, calling nicotine “uncool, a drug and nasty.” (Photos by Michael O’Hearn)

Forum details intersections between tobacco, marijuana, e-cigarettes

TRYON – The Rutherford Polk McDowell Health District held a health forum on the dangers of drugs, marijuana and electronic cigarettes Thursday to a gathering of approximately 30 law enforcement, school and hospital personnel.

The meeting was held from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Tryon First Baptist Church Activity Center and guest speakers included Ann Staples of the N.C. Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch, Dr. Basil Savitsky, Kim McDonald and Dr. Roy Smith of the Pavillon Addiction Treatment Center in Mill Spring.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“The main focus is how to fight the addiction to drugs like HTC, nicotine, e-cigarettes among children who, at their age, can see arrested development in the brain from middle school through 9th grade,” explained Marjorie Vestal, meeting organizer and public health consultant.

Audience members were treated to a screening of the short film, “The Call,” which was presented by McDonald. It was shown to illustrate how kids can fight against the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Savitsky, who works as a prevention coordinator with McDonald at RHA Health Services, LLC, spoke on how to best prevent middle school children from getting addicted to drugs like marijuana and cigarettes.

“There are 18 inches between the head and the heart, and that is the longest distance in the universe when it comes to kids,” Savitsky explained. “I can drill a hole in their head, insert a funnel and pour statistics in all day long. If the kids aren’t motivated, it’s not going to happen. We have to figure out how to bridge the head and the heart.”

Savitsky posed the question to the audience about how to change the attitude of children, and said doing so requires stepping in the “moccasins” of the children in order to tap into the interior and emotional intelligence of the kids.

“It’s got to become uncool to be addicted to nicotine, and it can’t be just the nerds and the athletes who don’t do it,” Savitsky said. “It has to be everyone. Nicotine is a drug, it is addictive and it changes your brain chemistry. It’s nasty and uncool.”

According to Savitsky, 100,000 teens will die from nicotine usage before they reach the age of 17. Savitsky performed what he calls “social math,” and said this is an effective way to get children in middle school health classes to understand the statistic.

“Polk County has approximately 20,000 residents, and let’s invite everyone that we know, don’t know, to the arena in, what’s the biggest auditorium in the area? Greenville?” Savitsky said. “They’re all dead, in a flash. We would have to do that five times to get to the teens statistic. I can’t even imagine 100,000 kids. We have to teach them resistance skills and get them to practice these skills. ‘Just say no’ doesn’t work.”

Dr. Roy E. Smith of the Pavillon Addiction Treatment Center presented statistics during a PowerPoint entitled “Street Drugs Medication and Misuse: The Latest Facts” to illustrate the current trends in drug use.

“When it comes to what new users try first, marijuana takes the lead followed by pain pills,” Smith explained. “Does that surprise anyone? When it comes to nicotine, 62 percent say they want to quit, 52 percent try to but only six percent actually quit.”

On the topic of e-cigarettes, Smith presented slides outlining the common arguments for and the arguments against using the devices according to those who use them.

“Some people say there are less toxins, but unless your New Year’s resolution is to go on a formaldehyde free diet, that argument is invalid,” Smith said. “The other toxins are still present in the e-cigarette. The term ‘vaping’ is also misleading because vapors are harmless. You can walk through a cloud of perfume or cologne and be fine. What is being exhaled is like an aerosol, and aerosols can be seen if the molecules are big enough. Aerosols are not safe.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, past 30-day use of e-cigarettes increased nine times from 1.5 to 13.4 percent and more than six times for middle school students from 0.6 to 3.9 percent. Nearly 2.5 million U.S. middle and high school students were past 30-day e-cigarette users in 2014, including one in seven high school students.

“Because the adolescent brain is still developing, nicotine use during adolescence can disrupt the formation of brain circuits that control attention, learning and susceptibility to addiction,” according to the CDC.

Student Resource Officer Sgt. Jesse Smith said the training presented in the meeting is important because the information on vaping and e-cigarettes is not easy to find elsewhere.

“The more knowledge that we have, the more it can help us and parents prevent and see the dangers of nicotine products that young teens may be exposed to,” Smith said.