A Parent's Guide to Drug Paraphernalia

7 Everyday Clues

Public health officials regularly warn against the widespread danger of illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription opioids. Within the past 15 years, the problem has grown to epidemic proportions, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a three-fold increase in heroin-related deaths alone.

Moreover, the shared use of the syringes, needles, and other drug paraphernalia has resulted in a wave of HIV and hepatitis C infections across the United States, as evidenced by the 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana which was attributed almost entirely to illegal OxyContin (oxycodone) use.

If you suspect someone you love is taking drugs, finding any of these common and often overlooked items should serve as a warning sign to take action.

1

Burnt Spoons or Bottle Caps

Addict preparing drugs
ermingut / Getty Images

One of the first signs of a drug problem, strangely enough, is usually not a syringe or needle but missing spoons. It's not unusual to hear roommates or family members wondering why a cutlery service for 12 is suddenly down to only nine spoons.

Spoons are used for cooking drugs, meaning that the powdered drug is placed in the bowl of a spoon with a little water and heated over a flame until it turns to liquid. Because the flame can irreparably stain the spoon, the user can't return it and will instead hide it away somewhere for future use.

Other users will turn to things like bottle caps which are less conspicuous and are usually held over a flame with a pair of pliers. Having either or both of these items stashed in a room can be a sign of trouble.

2

Razor Blades and a Mirror

Single- or double-edged razor blades are used to cut cocaine or methamphetamine ("meth") into lines to be snorted.

A mirror is frequently used as the chopping board for several reasons:

  • The powdered drug won't stick to glass.
  • You can see the drug better and won't waste any.
  • Some people seem to get a thrill from seeing themselves snort drugs.

A mirror that has visible, straight scratch marks can be another warning sign of a drug problem.

3

Used, Dried-Up Cotton Balls

If you suspect a loved one is injecting drugs and regularly find used, dried-up cotton balls in the waste bin, you need to take action.

A cotton ball is used as a filter after a drug has been cooked in a spoon. It is dropped into the bowl of the spoon to strain the liquid and weed out any chunks of impurities that have not melted. The needle and syringe then extract the liquid through the cotton filter to inject.

If you find regularly these in a loved one's room, you can confirm your suspicions by using a drug residue test kit (like the Surface Drug D4D Test) readily available online or at many major drug stores.

4

Cut-Up Straws, Rolled Dollar Bills, or Hollowed Pens

There is really no ready explanation as to why a person would have cut-up plastic straws in the bedroom. These are impromptu devices commonly used to snort cocaine or meth, usually cut into 3-inch to 5-inch lengths.

Other users will use rolled-up dollar bills to snort drugs. The bills are simply curled into a tube and then be flattened out afterward to conceal the evidence. Users tend to prefer crisp bills because they believe less powder will get stuck to the fibers compared to old, frayed ones.

Another clever trick is to extract the insides of a ballpoint pen and snort the drug through the hollowed tube.

While these types of clues are hardly definitive, if you feel your loved one is hiding a drug problem, be proactive in your response. Something like a dollar bill isn't all that easy to clean and can be readily tested with a residue drug kit.

5

Burnt Foil Squares

While people will often look for rolling papers or glass or metal pipes as evidence that someone is smoking drugs, they will often overlook one key clue: crumpled up, little wads of aluminum foil in the waste bin.

Persons who smoke crack will often place the chopped-up crystals onto a piece of foil and hold it over a candle or lighter until it smokes. They will then inhale the smoke through a rolled-up foil straw, dollar bill, or glass or metal straw.

If you find wadded-up pieces of crack foil in the waste bin, it will usually have a burnt, resiny scent that's hard to miss.

6

Candles, Lighters, or Used Matches

Most people would be hard-pressed to explain they why need to keep an old, used candle in their room or why there are used matches in the bin if they don't smoke. In the end, there may be every reason for these drug-cooking items to be in a loved one's room but don't miss the signs if you suspect there's a problem.

"I don't know" or "I found it" should never be considered an adequate reply should you inquire about any type of flame source—be it a lighter or bunsen burner—in a loved one's room.

7

Rubber Tubing or Lacing

There are many things a person can use to "tie off" an arm so that a vein plumps up in advance of an injection. They may include everyday items such as extra-long shoelaces, a belt, a hairband, an elastic lanyard, or even a length of twine. All of these things are less than obvious signs of a drug habit.

One item that should raise a red flag is a precut length of rubber tubing or lacing which drug users prefer because they provide extra tension that other items can't. Unless there is some reasonable explanation as to why rubber tubing or lacing is in a loved one's room, you should consider it a warning sign and take action.

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Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Today Heroin Epidemic." Atlanta, Georgia; updated July 7, 2017.