York High School Resource Officer Nick Piskopanis, left, holds a fake highlighter that conceals a marijuana pipe, while Detective Jamie Robie holds an announcement for an upcoming event at which police hope to tell parents about potential hiding places their children may be using for drugs. Credit: Deborah McDermott | The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — For $10 on Amazon, you can purchase what looks like a red Sharpie pen — not a pen at all, but an item that twists apart and leaves an empty interior for pills. There’s also a “US Patrol diversion” hair brush for $9.98 that opens to reveal a hollow interior to hide “money, jewelry and other valuables.”

Add in some real-looking books, an “aerosol can” of Barbesol and a twist-bottom “water bottle.” Let’s not forget the vape stick masquerading as a thumb drive. And you, too, could have contraband “hidden in plain sight.”

“Parents don’t have the awareness level with this new technology,” said York Police Detective Jamie Robie. “We know about them as police officers, but parents just don’t know about stuff like that. These things are so easily hidden. And kids can buy them on Amazon, sometimes for just $2 or $3.”

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“It’s easy for them to make their own ‘hides,’” said York High School Resource Officer Nick Piskopanis.

To give parents “the awareness they need,” the York Police Department is teaming up with York School Department and the Choose to be Healthy Coalition to offer an interactive program on the evening of May 29. It is open to all high school parents, as well as parents of eighth-graders. Students are being asked not to attend.

The partners will be converting a room at the high school into a bedroom, “just like a teenager’s room would look like,” said Piskopanis. The police will be seeding the room with items that might look like anything a kid would have in their room, but that are in fact “hides” for drugs, alcohol or vaping material.

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Piskopanis held a green “highlighter” with a bottom that popped out to reveal a marijuana pipe. “I saw a can of Arizona ice tea. You took the top off it, and there was a tube inside. You can hide anything there – marijuana, pills. Parents might think it’s just a can of iced tea,” he said. “I once confiscated a bracelet that turned into a marijuana pipe.”

As for alcohol, it can be hidden in any empty bottle, said Piskopanis. “So that Gatorade bottle. Does it smell like Gatorade or does it smell like something else?”

When parents arrive, the “bedroom” will be open so they can walk through and look for items that are hidden. “So if I’m a parent and I’m cleaning a room, what should I be looking for? Is that highlighter heavier than normal? Does that soda can contain liquid or is it solid?” said Piskopanis.

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He said one of the biggest problems at York High these days is vaping — typically tobacco vaping, although the newest twist is marijuana vaping sticks. Hidden as a thumb drive or pen, it is an item that parents may just glance at and over when they are in their child’s room.

“We’ll show them, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s what that is. I thought it was a thumb drive,’” said Piskopanis.

Robie, who just recently completed a stint as the middle school resource officer, said she’s particularly interested in seeing parents of eighth-graders attend, “because those kids are going to be in the high school next year.”

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She said marketing of vapes is particularly insidious, with flavors like cotton candy, bubble gum and strawberry twist.

“And now you can vape marijuana. And nobody will know. There’s no odor,” said Piskopanis.

After parents have had a time to tour the “bedroom,” former high school counselor Gina Brodsky, who works for the Choose to be Healthy Coalition, will speak to parents about how to talk with their children and where to go for help in the community. She will also address the risks to teenagers of consuming tobacco, drugs or alcohol, both now and as it relates to their later lives.

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“As Gina likes to say, every young adult from York she knows who has died of a drug overdose began using substances when they were still in high school,” said Robie.

The idea behind “Hidden in Plain Sight” is to have a more informed parent community, said Robie.

“If kids know parents know, that’s a great deterrent,” she said. “It’s when they don’t feel like anyone is paying attention that they get into trouble.”

“Hidden in Plain Sight” will be held at York High School from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29.

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