Eye-opening exhibit provides unique opportunity for parents to detect risky teen behaviors

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A new traveling exhibit called “Hidden in Plain Sight” allows parents the chance to peer into the life of a teenager. Organizers stage a mock bedroom full of 50 common household items that could be used to disguise drug, alcohol, tobacco use or other potentially dangerous behaviors.

“We encourage parents to pick things up and look inside and investigate,” said Terri Lynn Longpre from the Lincoln Prevention Coalition.

As participants walk around the exhibit they have a checklist of some of the items and places that could be used to hide drugs, money or other substances.

“We guide them through, especially with the items that they are not familiar with such as vaping mechanisms and the oil concentrates,” Longpre added. “Those are all things that parents really aren’t educated on.”

It is perhaps the most mundane items that will shock parents the most. Longpre showed how a tube of lip balm can be used, with the balm scooped out and replaced with a marijuana concentrate oil. She also displayed a simple stick of deodorant and discussed how teens can take the top off, and in the cylinder hide a small amount of pills or weed. Longpre also discussed how a specially made Red Bull can, once used by a former heroin addict, can be used to disguise drugs in plain sight.

Parent Guide: Teens and Prescription Drugs »

Another thing for parents to look out for: texting lingo that teens sometimes use to communicate risky behavior.

“If you text 710 and flip it upside down it says “OIL,” so that type of lingo is used by teens and parents aren’t really in tune with that,” Longpre explained.

Parents Eyewitness News spoke with called this interactive seminar eye-opening.

“Obviously it’s good to stay current on what the kids are doing,” local parent Dean Balcierak said. “It’s definitely changed from when I was in high school. They seem to have access to a lot more product that is a lot more undetectable.”

Once the interactive seminar is over, professionals in the substance abuse field encourage parents to speak to their children and not go home and ransack their teen’s bedroom. Instead, they say it’s an opportunity to open up discussion, talk to your kids and ask them questions.

The Hidden in Plain Sight Program is almost a year old. Training has been held at about 10 schools in RI, but organizers hope to implement the seminar at more open houses and school events in Southern New England over the next year.

Portsmouth mother fights for better addiction resources in the wake of her son’s death

Carol Wilcox lost her son, Kevin James Medeiros, to an accidental heroin overdose last year.

“I was in my bed, he was in his room,” Wilcox said. “I was on my phone texting his addiction counselor saying after Christmas, we were going to need to move him to get help.”

But, it was too late. She was one room away in their home when Kevin died on Christmas Eve.

“It was a feeling what I had thought of time and time again actually happened,” she said. “It’s shocking and terrifying and yet you live it over again when your child us using a substance that can kill them.”

Kevin spent much of his young life battling mental health challenges such as mood disorders, anxiety and depression. He was gay and his mother says she was proud he came out at an early age, but to battle his inner demons, Carol says Kevin turned to drugs.

“He started with pot, mostly in high school,” Wilcox said.

But eventually he became addicted to heroin. After a year in rehab in California, Kevin returned home and relapsed. His first overdose was his last.

“It feels so unfair to me and he never got that second chance,” Wilcox said.

As the one-year anniversary of his death draws near, Carol, her husband and their two daughters are still struggling with their grief.

“It has brought us closer – the madness of addiction – no one knows quite what they are doing,” she said. “It’s hard to all be on the same page. It can tear a family apart and I’m glad we survived it.”

Carol credits her grandchildren with helping to ease the pain of loss. She’s also channeling her grief into a personal crusade by being a part of a group of local parents who meet once a month to help other families handle the challenges of addiction.

Parent Guide: The Signs of Drug Abuse »

“We are in a crisis. We need to change the way we do things,” Wilcox said. “We need money. Rehabs need to be funded. There needs to be beds to detox. To think they can go back out in one day is foolish and we need to start the education in middle school.”

Wilcox also says programs like Hidden in Plain Sight are helpful, too.

“It’s great – anything we can do to look for signs. Sometimes it’s Visine, or the smell of drugs, but as a parent you get really good at figuring it out,” she said. “One mom of a drug addict says she could flip a room over in just two minutes.”

“Anything we can do to make parents aware,” Wilcox added. “People whose kids are doing heroin, spoons are missing. For me it was tin foil. As one of my friends says, you learn to flip a room in two seconds.”

Now, almost a year after Kevin’s untimely death, Wilcox says she feels some solace that her son, whose life was fraught with troubles and challenges, is at peace.

“I will never be ashamed of my son or his addiction,” she said. “He was a strong person to have to deal with what he did. Now we all grieve and help each other to heal.”