How to spot drug paraphernalia

Every parent at some point has fears of their child using drugs and alcohol. Those nightmare scenarios are enough to make parents shudder. And that shudder might become real during a simple trip to the teen’s room and stumbling upon drug paraphernalia.

There’s a wide variety of items that are used in the consumption, injection or inhalation of drugs. Some of them are much more obvious than others. For example, it may not instantly register that a spoon or a piece of foil in a teenager’s room could be a sign of drug activity.

Here’s a look at drug paraphernalia that parents could spot among a teenager’s belongings.

Pipes and bongs: These may be the most easily identified drug-related items that parents may find, and are generally associated with marijuana. According to Robert Yoder, bongs can come in all shapes and sizes, and pipes can be used for cocaine and crack as well: “Not only is this type of paraphernalia a pretty telling sign of the use of certain drugs, but the process of smoking drugs usually produces a pretty unusual odor and telling smoke.” And, as this story by details, items can be transformed into pipes, including magic markers, gas masks and jewelry.

Plastic bags: These are frequently used in the distribution of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and pills. This website from the North Reading Police Department in Massachusetts describes how drug dealers use them for heroin: “Dealers will fill a corner of a sandwich baggie, twist it, tie it, and cut off the remainder of the bag.” And, as Yoder explains, “Alternately, it’s become common for drug dealers to purchase exceptionally small baggies for the express purpose of selling dose-sized quantities in appropriately-sized yet secure baggies.”

Syringes, spoons and foil: These are tell-tale signs of heroin use. It can be cooked on a spoon with a lighter underneath, then soaked up and injected by a syringe. Or it can be heated on a piece of foil and the fumes can be inhaled.

A story by an ABC news station in Chicago describes this, including commentary by Paula Goodwin of the sheriff’s department: “Goodwin says to beware if spoons in the house go missing and turn up bent in your child’s room. … Tin foil or gum wrappers can also be used to inhale heroin, and so can pens that have been pulled apart.”

The Fix describes other heroin-related items to look for: “A belt, rope, or cord may also be used to tie off the user’s arm in order to locate veins more easily. The entire kit may be hidden in a small, discreet case, which can usually be found in the bedroom or bathroom.”

Cans, glass pipes and more foil

These are signs of meth use, and as anyone who watched the popular program Breaking Bad saw, it’s highly addictive and dangerous. Here’s how The Fix describes the meth paraphernalia: “Small pieces of aluminum foil (may be creased down the middle) or soda cans with a hole in the side may be used to smoke the drug. Signs of meth use could include crumpled aluminum foil with burn marks that may be accompanied by straws or hollowed out ballpoint pens used to snort or smoke the drug. … Glass pipes or tubes may also be used to smoke meth. Used glass tubes will have burn residue on one end.”