NORTH WILDWOOD — Just because teenagers may have a bottle of mouthwash or a new set of tennis balls in their rooms doesn’t mean they are using drugs, but coupled with several other warning signs, they could be.

A handful of Cape May County residents and addiction-prevention advocates walked through a makeshift room outfitted with a bed, bookcase and wall outlets to try and find the nearly 50 indicators of drug or alcohol use at the Hidden In Plain Sight presentation Tuesday at the Wildwood Community Center.

As youth drug use, addiction rates and overdose deaths continue to rise locally and nationally, experts say it’s more important than ever to notice the signs of substance use and intervene with treatment and support.

“If our children do have a problem, it’s not going to go away all on its own,” said Tim McMahon, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, New Jersey Division. “These events are a great way for parents, caregivers, anybody to open their eyes a little bit.”

New Jersey is in the midst of a rapidly changing addiction epidemic, especially seen in the growing rates of people using and dying from heroin and opioid prescription misuse, and that includes teens.

Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, released a report in 2015 that named New Jersey with the sixth-highest rate of youth drug overdose deaths (10.7 per 100,000) in the country.

McMahon stressed that 2,500 teens every day use prescription drugs to get high for the first time.

Seemingly normal items such as lipsticks, highlighters, empty soda cans with holes, tubes of sunscreens, baseball caps, any kind of containers and other typical bedroom items could be used or disguised to hide or use drugs or alcohol. Things like spoons and bottle caps with residue could be tools a teen uses for heroin.

“One time, I had a mother tell me that she went to go change the bathroom toilet paper roll once and the metal tube came apart. She found out her daughter was hiding a syringe inside,” McMahon said.

Debbie Fiedler, facilitator at the CURE recovery and support group organization in Cape May Court House, said parents could really learn about some things that they would normally not notice, or become more open to identifying their child’s drug use and getting them help.

“Sometimes they see the evidence, but they may be in denial,” she said.

The event was organized by Cape Assist and co-sponsored by the Cape May County Healthy Community Coalition, the Greater Wildwood Municipal Alliance and the DEA.

Interested participants can attend a second Hidden In Plain Sight event Wednesday night {span}at the Villas Firehouse, 1619 Bayshore Road, Villas, at 6 p.m.

Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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