The panel included: Fannin County High School (FCHS) Principal Erik Cioffi, Fannin County Middle School Principal Keith Nuckolls, Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Allison Sosebee, Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby, Chief Executive Officer of Highland Rivers Melanie Dallas, Director for Addictive Diseases at Highland Rivers Ansley Silvers, Doctor Bill Whaley Board Certified Physician and Addiction Specialist who serves as the medical consultant for the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Task Force, and President of Georgia Board of Pharmacy Bill Prather and owner of Blue Ridge Pharmacy.
The panel members addressed what vaping is, substances often used in vape pens, and the health risks of vaping.
Vape pens can look like jump drives, electronic cigarettes, and other electronics.
Through vaping, a person can ingest illegal substances such as synthetic cannabinoids like Pinaca. Pinaca has recently been discovered and listed as a schedule 1 drug like LSD or heroin.
Local pharmacist Bill Prather explained that there about 100 different cannabinoids and they are being chemically altered in other countries and then being distributed in the US.
Prather stated, “I think this is going on because of the discussion about marijuana. THC the active ingredient in marijuana that makes you high is still a schedule 1 narcotic. Many states have legalized marijuana as a medical drug and even a recreational drug. All these cannabinoids that are coming into the United States are coming from those plants and they’re being altered, and this is what our young people are ingesting.”
District Attorney Allison Sosebee referenced a story from another county where a student had ingested an unknown substance while vaping in the school bathroom and the student went into an acute psychosis, and when he came to, he attempted to pull his tongue out of his mouth.
The issue here, is that when students see adults—or people on social media, in movies, commercials, etc.—using vape pens, these devices appear harmless.
When vape pens and e-cigarettes were first on the market, they were used in place of real cigarettes and were intended to be used to quit smoking. Dr. Whaley explained that vape nicotine equaled the same amount as 20 standard cigarettes.
Each panel member communicated how important it is that this epidemic be taken seriously since there are no regulations or studies on how vaping certain substances can affect Fannin’s youth.
The vaping industry is so new that there are not any safety regulations in place to monitor the effects of vaping.
Director of Addictive Diseases Ansley Silvers stated, “We’re talking about ‘decision making, decision making, decision making’ and brain development and we’re expecting these kids to think like an adult and to think through things…I think we as a community we need to educate these sophomores, juniors, and seniors [about the consequences of drugs] and constantly remind them of the ‘why’ [they shouldn’t do drugs].”
As a result, the Fannin County School System has decided to tackle vaping on school premises with severe consequences.
Principal Cioffi stated, “As of September 7th, if a student is caught with any vaping product or being caught in the act, they will receive 5 days of out of school suspension (OSS). They will also be put in our database where if they have a second offense then they would be recommended to alternative school.”
Cioffi also explained that FCHS is looking into installing technology that can detect when Juuls and other vaping devices are being used to keep students from vaping in the bathrooms, hallways, and other parts of school grounds.
Fannin County is on high alert with this vaping epidemic. Students should expect more school policies and focused attention on the devices they bring to school and use while on school premises.
Quick-Mart’s owner, Jigneshkumar Patel, was arrested Wednesday Sep. 25 and charged with multiple charges.
These charges include a felonies for distribution of Nitrous Oxide (known as whippets), possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute (the vaping substance now recognized as Pinaca), reproduction of recorded material (bootleg movies), and racketeering. A misdemeanor for transactions in drug related objects (like vape pens and e-cigarettes) was also included in the charges.
Fannin County’s District Attorney Allison Sosebee stated that the case against Patel is still an open investigation: “If any more charges are added it will be from the investigation.”
While in court, Jigneshkumar Patel’s attorney requested dismissal of motion to bond during penance. It was revealed that Homeland Security has Patel listes on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) list and it’s possible that he could be subjected to deportation.
This is a community issue because this illegal substance listed above, Pinaca, is the vaping substance that’s been sold to students in Fannin County. There have been other similar incidents in Pickens and Gilmer counties as well.
Pinaca is a synthetic cannabinoid and is designed to mimic THC, the active chemical of cannabis. Synthetic cannabinoids are classed as ‘New Psychoactive Substances’ (NPS) which are unregulated substances that have become newly available on the market as an alternative to illegal drugs.
As a result, Pinaca has been listed a Control Level 1 illegal substance due to the dangerous health risks like accidental overdose and severe psychiatric complications.
The type of Pinaca and amount of active compound may vary considerably from batch to batch. Effects of this compund may include agitation, rapid heart rate, confusion, dizziness and nausea.
ELLIJAY, Ga – The Appalachian Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney, Alison Sosebee, began her campaign today in Fannin Middle School and Gilmer High School with presentations for students about the rising trend of vaping in all forms.
Speaking to the students she shared some of the responses that authorities have begun included harsher penalties for vape devices in general, not to mention the felonies possible with controlled substances. Using drugs in the vape devices like the popular Juul brand devices is only a part of growing concerns as authorities and administrations fear for students who expect non-nicotine flavored water vapor in devices they may find friends with when in reality these devices could contain anything from Heroin to Synthetic Marijuana.
Sosebee also invited Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Dustin Hamby to speak about the Bureau’s involvement. Hamby noted that almost 90% of his cases tied to drug usage in some way. He goes on to note that he’s had three murders in his career directly related to drug usage.
Sosebee recalled the story of a case she and Hamby shared about a guy who had taken drugs with a close friend. Under the influence, he grew greatly agitated at his friend and violently murdered him without full realization. He spoke further about how little it takes to blow up into major consequences in situations like vaping unknown substances.
Sosebee also noted that they are finding that many students and users of vape devices believe them safer than regular cigarettes. She noted that not only is there zero research to support his claim, but there is also no research or regulations on vaping devices right now. No one can tell you everything that is in Vape Juice, nor if people at smoke shops are adding extra ingredients. She called the students this generations guinea pigs for testing if vaping as they would be the cases that doctors study thirty years from now to determine the actual effects that Vaping can have in both short-term and long-term effects.
Only the first day, Sosebee is expected to travel to Fannin High, Pickens High, and Pickens Middle schools in the next two weeks along with possibly adding Gilmer Middle as well.
Jasper, Ga – Authorities have met a major incident as they executed a search warrant at the local A1 Smoke Shop in Jasper, Georgia.
During the execution of the search warrant today, September 14, members of the Drug Task Force, Pickens Sheriff’s Office, and Jasper City Police were exposed to an unidentified substance that immediately brought down one detective. Others also became exposed in attempts to help treat the detective. According to an official release by Sgt. Jody Weaver, Administrative Services Division of the Pickens Sheriff’s Office, “As of this release, two Detectives, a DTF Agent and two EMS personnel are being treated now for symptoms.”
Unconfirmed reports indicate the substance may have been made airborne during the search, but reports at this time indicate the exposure is not life-threatening.
According to their official release, “The Cherokee County Hazardous Materials Team has dispatched to the scene to assist, along with all surrounding public safety agencies including the Pickens Fire & EMS and City of Jasper Fire.”
Additionally, authorities have closed businesses in close proximity to the location and evacuated citizens from the area for safety.
With Haz-Mat teams investigating the substances, authorities are declining to release certain details of the active investigation, but indicate that they will be releasing more information about the incident later.
With the recent rise of vaping devices being used to inhale drugs ranging from Methamphetamines to THC Oil to Synthetic Marijuana, it is likely this warrant could be part of an official response to the trend in our schools, though no official statement identifies why they were executing a search warrant. The District Attorney’s office is currently undertaking a series of assemblies at the middle and high schools of Pickens, Fannin, and Gilmer.
At this point, it is actually quite common to find controlled substances in vape devices across America, especially in schools as reports continue to flood the media about students falling unconscious or having severe reactions, even seizures because of what they may or may not know they are inhaling.
See the full media release below:
“Pickens County law enforcement have encountered a suspected unknown powder substance during execution of a search warrant – Deputies and other public safety adversely affected.”
On the morning of Friday, September 14, 2018, the Drug Task Force, along with the Pickens Sheriff’s Office and the City of Jasper Police Department executed a search warrant at the A-1 Smoke Shop located at 684 West Church Street in Jasper, Georgia. During the search of the premises, a Detective with the Pickens Sheriff’s Office came in contact with an unknown substance which immediately resulted in the Detective experiencing adverse health conditions and symptoms. The affected Detective was transported to the local hospital for immediate treatment. Public safety personnel who were exposed while treating the affected Detective also began experiencing similar reactions. As of this release, two Detectives, a DTF Agent and two EMS personnel are being treated now for symptoms.
The Cherokee County Hazardous Materials Team has dispatched to the scene to assist, along with all surrounding public safety agencies including the Pickens Fire & EMS and City of Jasper Fire. Businesses in close proximity to the location have been evacuated as a safety precaution, and Haz-Mat teams are preparing to enter the premises to thoroughly investigate and identify the cause of the health issues with our public safety personnel.
As this is an active investigation, more information will be provided as it becomes available.
Jasper, Ga – The Pickens County Board of Education hosted a no-threat lockdown today on the campus of Pickens High School.
Parents and citizens saw the Pickens County Sheriff respond to concerns saying:
We currently have a team of deputies and K-9 units participating in a controlled sweep of the Pickens High School campus. While the school is being checked, students are being placed in a non-emergency lockdown status. Students are safe and no threat exists at the school.
When questioned about the lockdown, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson said the K-9 sweep was scheduled for a few weeks ago, but had to be pushed back due to scheduling conflicts with Cherokee County who supplies the K-9 units. As the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has retired its last K-9 unit for medical reasons, Wilson stated it is a part of the agreement with Cherokee County to utilize theirs.
With the lockdown and sweep completed, Wilson informed FYN that no drugs were located during the sweep today. Though he noted it was not directly related to the rising use of vape devices, Wilson did respond to questions about the trend saying that it is a concern in the school system.
Sweeps like this is a part of the school’s enforcement of its code of conduct as well as state and federal law. Though Wilson said there is more going on behind the scenes in the system’s response to the rising vape concerns and to school security in general, he declined to release details saying, “There is a number of things that we are doing and things that we are working with the Sheriff’s Office, some of that we just can’t publicize at the moment.”
More information on these steps like the K-9 sweeps and other programs the school already has in place over its years in operation can be found at the upcoming Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold a meeting for parents for information and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.
Wilson went on to note that the school system is being forced to change the way it views vaping devices. While he notes that it is against the law for underage kids to possess cigarettes and vaping devices and they have enforced the law, he did state that the school system may have, at times, not utilized the most extreme forms of discipline available in every situation involving the use of nicotine. He went on to say, “Now that this added ability of being able to vape just about anything, that brings it to a whole different level.”
As part of the school’s efforts to inform parents and students about the dangers that vapes present with not knowing what is in them, the board is working with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson said, “We may have looked at vaping in the past as more of a replacement for a cigarette, and not as a delivery device for drugs… Going forward, we probably would.”
He added later, “We’re going to have to really start disciplining to the fullest extent that we can, given to us by our Code of Conduct or either by the Law to keep our children safe.”
Thursday afternoon, September 6, Dr. Gwatney sent out a letter explaining a recent event at Fannin County High School. It’s been reported that students are smoking and inhaling electronic cigarettes.
District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee contacted Dr. Gwatney sharing that several students from other counties have needed medical treatment after using these electronic cigarettes. Unfortunately, an incident has happened like this here in our own county.
It’s been discovered that a substance known as, “Kronic” is being sold locally and the students are getting ahold of it; this has resulted in students needing medical attention and have been escorted to the hospital.
Currently, Fannin County High School staff and faculty are doing everything they can to talk to our students about their decisions to vape and using electronic cigarettes. Our students also need to be aware and mindful of what substances they are putting into their electronic cigarettes and/ or vapes.
Parents and guardians should be aware and look out for these items. Electronic cigarettes, vapes, etc. can look like USB flash drives, lighters, pens, and other common items. Please ask and talk to your students about what they know—and may not know—about vaping and electronic cigarettes. Let’s take this time as a community to take care of our kids.
The school district has been kind enough to post various pictures of devices to watch for on Facebook page (Fannin County School System). For more information on vaping, you may refer to the CDC website at the following website: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm
Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.
The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the
original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.
However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”
With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.
However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.
Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.
Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.
Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”
Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”
As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”
According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”
Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”
Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”
With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.
Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”