Drug Paraphernalia

Most illicit drugs don’t slide into the user’s body by mere osmosis. Instead, users often must take elaborate measures in order to prepare their drugs for use, and they may invest in tools that can help them to take drugs efficiently. Similarly, people who sell drugs often need tools in order to weigh their drugs and prepare them for addicted consumers, and this work also requires a significant amount of equipment. These tools are commonly referred to as “drug paraphernalia,” and they may help family members to confirm that the people they love are actively involved in using drugs or selling drugs. This article will outline what common drug paraphernalia looks like, and what should be done when these pieces of equipment are found by concerned family members.

Common Tools

Some types of paraphernalia are easy to spot. For example, people who abuse heroin often must heat up the drug, to transform it into a liquid, and then they must inject the drug into their veins. In order to accomplish these tasks, users need:

  • Lighters or matches to heat the drug
  • Spoons or foil to place the drug on
  • Cotton balls or sponges to pull the drugs through
  • Needles

This type of paraphernalia is often quite dirty, full of burn marks and residue from drugs. The needles might also contain tiny flecks of blood. People who smoke marijuana may choose to roll their own cigarettes with the drug, meaning that they must possess cigarette rolling paper, as well as matches and ashtrays. Marijuana can be expensive, so users dislike the idea of discarding the butt of the cigarette. As a result, they clutch the cigarette with tiny metal clips, or long scissors, so they can smoke the cigarettes until they have disappeared to nothing. Some marijuana smokers prefer to smoke the drug in pipes, and these can be small and colorful, or wooden and earthy, or metal and elaborate.

Some drugs can be crushed, combined with water, and pulled in via vapor. It sounds like a very complicated task, but tools can make this easier to accomplish. In fact, some vaporization tools look much like inhalers used in the treatment of asthma, and they may not include any sort of marker that indicates their true purpose.Some smokers of drugs believe that the smoke from the drugs will be less harmful if it’s pulled through a bath of water first. These users may invest in elaborate bongs, or pipes made of glass that hold a reservoir of water. These tools can be quite expensive and elaborate, making the user tempted to display them.

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Users who snort drugs, including cocaine and crushed prescription pills, may hoard razor blades in order to chop up the particles into a fine mist. These users may also have straws or rolled-up dollar bills that they use to snort drugs. All of these items may be coated with a fine mist of powder.

Dealers may have the following tools at hand for their work:

  • Scales to weigh drugs
  • Balloons, to fill with drugs
  • Loose cash, to make change
  • Additives, such as powdered sugar, to make the supply last longer

It’s important to note that drug paraphernalia is often located close to actual stashes of drugs. Family members who look for drug paraphernalia may also, inadvertently, come across large amounts of drugs that the person plans to use at a later date. Families who come across these discoveries, and who have small children living within the home, should place the children with family members or close friends until the issue is addressed. Small children who stumble across these drugs may take them, and they may not survive the ordeal. Safety must always come first.

Where Paraphernalia Is Found

It’s commonly believed that drug users will scatter their tools about, leaving the evidence on display for anyone who chooses to look. While some drug abusers may certainly do this, many more choose to hide their paraphernalia away. According to the Arizona Affiliate of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, common hiding places include:

  • Dresser or desk drawers
  • Inside CD or DVD cases
  • Buried in plant soil
  • Between books on a bookshelf
  • Under loose floorboards
  • Inside over-the-counter pain medication bottles

Some users are careful to purchase drug paraphernalia that looks like common household items. For example, they may buy lipstick cases with false bottoms they can hide drugs in, or they may purchase faux felt-tip pens with concealed drug pipes in the bottom. These might be harder for family members to spot, but they can be just as dangerous for drug addicts to use.

Some drug users seem rather proud of their drug use and their expensive tools, and they may festoon the boxes in which they keep their drugs with elaborate drawings, pro-drug stickers or personalized quotes from drug users. Anything that seems encoded or somehow out of place should be closely investigated, as it may very well contain either drugs or drug paraphernalia.

The Law and Drug Paraphernalia

According to the United States Code Controlled Substances Act, it is unlawful for anyone to sell drug paraphernalia, and it’s illegal to transport paraphernalia. This law sounds airtight, and it would seem that anyone who sells these materials would go straight to jail for that activity. Unfortunately, this law does contain one gigantic loophole: Stores can sell many items that people would consider drug paraphernalia, as long as they state that they are selling the items for the use of tobacco, not drugs. As a result, most of these items are still relatively easy to find, and most places that sell them face no consequences for doing so. This might be changing, however. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration reports that a recent investigation of 18 companies resulted in multiple arrests for the sale of drug paraphernalia, even though the companies claimed they were selling products for tobacco use. As knowledge of the use of these products becomes more widespread, perhaps more companies that manufacture these products will go out of business.

In the interim, it remains illegal in most states for people to possess any form of paraphernalia. In fact, in many states, people who are caught with these items can face lengthy prison sentences, even if they don’t have drugs in their possession at the moment. These laws were intended to help reduce the amount of drug abuse occurring in the United States at any given moment, but the laws may have brought about unintended consequences. For example, a study published in the Journal of Drug Issues found that 35 percent of those studied were worried about being arrested for drug paraphernalia, and those who had these concerns were more likely to share needles than people who didn’t have these fears. Sharing needles can lead to blood-borne diseases, so this isn’t a minor concern. As a result, some states are moving to decriminalize the possession of some types of paraphernalia.

Finding Drug Paraphernalia

If you find drug paraphernalia that includes needles, it’s best not to touch them or attempt to clean them or recap them. Again, these needles often contain small flecks of blood, and these tiny molecules can contain diseases. Families who live in areas of the country in which drug use is rampant may find discarded needles and other paraphernalia on a regular basis, littering the sidewalks or gathering in the corners of office doorways. Family members who find random drug paraphernalia like this should call their local police departments for advice.

Finding drug paraphernalia in the home is another matter entirely. In fact, finding drug paraphernalia in the home is one of the best ways to help families truly prove that the person they love is taking drugs. Some parents may find paraphernalia purposefully, when they raid their children’s rooms in the hopes of finding evidence they can use to start a discussion. Other families may stumble across the paraphernalia when they are cleaning or tidying. When these materials are found in the home, it’s time to take immediate action.

Using Drug Paraphernalia to Break Through

Over 80 percent of people who are addicted to substances don’t get the help they need to improve, and according to a study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, much of that lack of care can be blamed on denial. People who have addictions may not believe that their addictions are truly serious, or they may believe that they are not putting their families at risk by participating in drug use. Paraphernalia offers families the opportunity to break through denial, and help the person to see that drug use truly is dangerous and must be stopped. It serves as a real and concrete example of the drug use, making it much harder to deny.

Some families choose to use the paraphernalia they’ve found in a formal intervention for addiction. Here, the entire family sits down with the addict and they present a case for why the addiction is dangerous and should be stopped.

Families can include paraphernalia by:

  • Pointing out that it indicates habitual use
  • Reminding the user that it is illegal
  • Highlighting the dangers of keeping these objects in homes with children, if applicable
  • Expressing the fear and shock they felt when they found the items

Interventions can be highly emotional, and sometimes, addicts become so upset during these talks that they become violent. People who have a violent history might best be approached with the help of a trained interventionist. This person can help the family plan for the talk, and step in with advice if the talk seems to be headed in the wrong direction.

Addicts who are currently in treatment may also relapse from time to time, and they may also bring home paraphernalia that they’ve collected in order to keep using. Families can hold another intervention when this happens, or they can simply bring the items they’ve found to the attention of the person’s counselor or case manager. This might be the best way to handle the problem and get the addict back on track.

How We Can Help

Finding drug paraphernalia is incredibly frightening for most families, but it’s important for families to move past the shock and determine what they will do in order to assist with the addiction problem. We can help. At Axis, we happily work with families who are planning interventions for drug addiction, and we can even help families complete some of the enrollment paperwork, so the people they love can enter the program as soon as the intervention is complete. Please call us to find out more about our programs, and how we can help.