This story originally appeared in the Friday, Oct. 25, 2015 issue of The Grove Sun.
Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three part series examining the impact of alcohol use on young lives.
As an investigator for the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, Lt. Erik Smoot has serious concerns when it comes to the dangers connected with underage drinking.
Among the things that make Smoot the most apprehensive: alcohol found in deceptive packaging and antics of students pursuing a high.
Smoot often travels around Oklahoma, talking with parents and educators, about these issues.
During his presentations, he brings along a cardboard box filled with containers of alcohol.
The beverages, which include flavored beer, a variety of wine, or portable containers of liquor, are packaged in such a way that the alcoholic content can be mistaken for non-alcoholic drinks.
Smoot’s collection includes a cardboard container of wine designed like an energy drink; sparkling wine in a package that resembles a can of juice; and a milk bottle decorated with cow spots, which contains an alcoholic chocolate milk beverage.
All were purchased legally in the state of Oklahoma and most are available the average liquor store.
All of them, Smoot said, could be carried by students in public under the noses of unsuspecting adults.
“My concern is I could carry any one of these products into school and nobody would question it,” Smoot said, surveying his collection. “[In many cases] nobody would ask what they are drinking, because it doesn’t look like alcohol.”
|Lt. Erik Smoot said alcoholic products in non-traditional packaging|
may allow students to consume alcohol without the knowledge of adults.
The most popular beverage Smoot and other ABLE Commission investigators see during busts of underage parties is a flavored malt drink known as Four Loco.
Smoot said the 23-1/2 ounce beverage is a favorite of students for three reasons: it comes in a dozen sweet flavors, a single can has an alcohol content which is equivalent to a six pack of low-point beer and it cheap at $2 per can.
Another, known as a “pocket shot” is an airtight collapsible plastic container of rum, which is small enough to slip inside a pocket.
Smoot said students could, in theory, carry the “shot” into the school in their pockets, purchase a drink from a vending machine and then discretely add it to the soda. The packaging is then thrown away, rather than re-filled like a traditional flask.
Ultimately, Smoot said, he takes his message to parents and instructors for one reason – awareness.
“Parents and teachers need to go see what is out there,” Smoot said. “They need to go see what is available for purchase at liquor stores. So [they will recognize it] when they see the stuff in the kids’ hands.”
State Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove), who is also an emergency room physician, agrees.
"We need to make parents aware," Cox said. "You cannot legislate away negative behavior by teens.
"The first line of defense is not going to be the government or legislation. It's going to be the parents."
Smoot said, he sees the aftermath of students' choices when it comes to consuming alcohol. He said students often take part in risky behaviors as they chase an alcohol high.
Many of those behaviors involve teens and driving. Smoot was one of the law enforcement officers who investigated the death of Fairland teen Colton Kerns, who was involved in a one-vehicle crash involving speed and alcohol on April 20, 2012.
However, he said, other behaviors — which can lead to death — take place during parties or even in a student's bedroom.
It involves ingesting the alcohol in non-traditional ways, which can lead to a faster rate of absorption and ultimately, an increased risk of alcohol poisoning.
One method, known as “stringing” or “plugging” involves both males and females inserting a vodka-soaked tampon into a bodily orifice. Another method, known as “butt chugging” entails the use of alcohol in the form of an enema.
A third form of consumption, known as “vodka eyeballing” involves pouring alcohol directly into the eye socket, often times by placing the bottle of alcohol directly over the eye.
Smoot said the risk of alcohol poisoning is higher when using these methods because it is absorbed directly into the blood stream, bypassing the digestive system. This means vomiting does not expel the excess alcohol from a student's system before a blackout occurs.
Smoot said many students choose to use the internal methods because it allows the ingestion of alcohol without the lingering odor on a person’s breath, and because it provides “an immediate high as it is absorbed into the blood stream.”
Students learn about these behaviors through word of mouth and from internet sources, which are readily available.
While neither Grove Police Chief Mark Morris or Cox have seen the use of these techniques in Grove, Smoot said officials in other parts of the state have reported the methods in use by underage students.
Smoot said at least one instance, involving a female using a vodka soaked tampon, took place within the past two years in an Oklahoma City-area town.
Cox said he has witnessed numerous cases of alcohol poisoning during his tenure as an emergency room physician. He said the use of these forms of consumption run significant risk for people — especially underage drinkers.
"The human mind never ceases to amaze me, [especially] in the diverse ways and things [people] think they can get away with, which are really bad for their health," Cox said. "It never ceases to amaze and frustrate me."
The health risks of these methods extend beyond an alcoholic overdose.
Smoot said doctors reporting the use of vodka eyeballing said it can cause scaring to the cornea and could potentially damage the optic nerve.
Cox said people who insert alcohol rectally run the risk of damaging the mucosal lining of the anus, opening a person's system up to potential infection.
The risky behavior can also lead to death.
Smoot cites a case involving a Houston, Texas-area woman who killed her husband by allegedly giving him a alcoholic enema.
The woman allegedly gave her husband an enema using at least two 1.5 liter bottles of sherry. This method was used because medical problems with the man's throat kept him from drinking alcohol. The man died from alcohol poisoning.
Cox is concerned about students who might present in an emergency situation with high blood alcohol content, but say they did not drink anything.
"They will be less open to admitting how it happened if they are doing it by enema or tampon," Cox said. "It leaves us, as physicians, in the dark as to how they got to this level of alcohol."
Ultimately, Smoot hopes educating parents and teachers about the dangers surrounding underage drinking has one result.
“This is all about saving lives,” Smoot said.
Cox and Morris agree.
"Kids already know this," Cox said. "We need to make parents aware.
"Parents need to have frank discussions about the issue and also set a good example for their teens."
"Parents should be aware, and pay attention to what their teens are doing," Morris said. "Look for signs, smells and behaviors. There are a lot of dangers out there.
"Everyday there are new ways to introduce alcohol into a teen's system. Some are extremely dangerous."
* * *
Lt. Erik Smoot with the ABLE Commission said since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, some Oklahoma schools are reporting an increase in the use of edibles containing the drug by students.
The products include a cinnamon candy laced with marijuana, which Smoot said is packaged like many other candies legally available in the state.
Another item is a cookie, which he said, contains 12 servings of marijuana.
Smoot said teens run the risk of an overdose when consuming the cookie, because most people eat the entire cookie, rather than portioning it out.
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Fox 23 reported deputies with the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office found marijuana-laced gummy candies during a traffic stop. Law enforcement officials believe the candy was bought in Colorado. Officials are concerned that similar candies could get into the hands of children.
Another substance, available on the internet, but banned in Oklahoma is palcohol or powdered alcohol.
Smoot said at least half of the states have also banned the sale of the product, which is often poured into drinks or even snorted by users.
* * *
ROCMND Area Youth Services provides services designed to help combat, and hopefully prevent, drinking while driving.
For more information about the services offered by ROCMND Area Youth Services, persons interested may contact Bonnie McAffrey, RPC director, at 918-787-2104 or visit w.w.w.2kool2start.com.