FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - "Kids' nicotine, adolescents' nicotine usage is going up. Vaping is going up, Juuling is going up," says Melissa Markegard, the Community Health Educator with Fargo Cass Public Health.
North Dakota's most recent survey found about 22% of teens were vaping - and health leaders say that number is about to go up. In the span of one year, Markegard says the number of minors caught with tobacco products and referred to Fargo's tobacco education program has nearly doubled.
"During the last YRBS, or Youth Risk Behavior Survey, done in North Dakota, teens were vaping at about 22%. The YRBS will go again now in 2019 and I have a very strong feeling that we are going to see that 22% go much higher than that. I believe we'll see it – with the survey results – I think we'll see it right around that 50% mark. But I believe that it's almost higher than that," she says.
Thanks to trendy technologies like e-cigarettes and Juul pens, teens are being exposed to more nicotine than ever - which can have permanent effects.
"The nicotine content in a Juul specifically is very high. So if someone uses a full Juul pod – say they use a full Juul pod in one day. That's the equivalent nicotine to about a pack, pack and a half of cigarettes. That's a lot of nicotine," says Markegard. "Your brain develops in a different way once you start using nicotine. And so you never will really be the same person you were before you started using nicotine."
While the technology to hook kids is evolving, treatments to help them aren't. Markegard says the most successful treatment options are prescribed medications - but they aren't approved or readily available for minors.
"The things that are approved to help you quit, by the FDA, are patches – nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, there's a nicotine nasal spray, there's a nicotine inhaler, and then there's a couple medications that can also be prescribed by your doctor to help you quit. Now, those are for adults," she says. "You can't purchase them over the counter unless you're 18 years of age and older. So it does pose a problem for a teen who does want to quit."
Medical professionals say it's up to the FDA to clear the way.
"At the time when they were originally approved, they were only studied in adults. And so at the time, they didn't have hardly any studies in children or adolescents using these products," says Brody Maack, PharmD, BCACP, CTTS, a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist with Family HealthCare. "Now that it's 2019, we actually do have several studies that have been done using these products in adolescents. And the biggest thing that we've seen in those studies is that they are in fact safe for the most part."
For now, a teen's best option to successfully quit is to go through their doctor for a prescription - and they'll still need an adult to purchase the medication - but experts say it's worth it to protect this generation from future problems.
"My experience in my clinic is that most of the providers – if they're aware that a teenager is using some sort of a vaping device - we would like them to stop. So most of these providers would be comfortable using these products in teenagers and that's because of a lot of the safety data we do have available," says Maack.
"Being addicted to nicotine can be a lifelong thing that you are always trying to kick," Markegard says. "We don't want an entire generation addicted to nicotine again."