LUMBERTON — That candy bar your teenager is munching on might contain a bigger threat than sugar.
It could be laced with marijuana.
That was some of the information shared with more than 300 people during the 10th annual Orange Ribbon Luncheon held by Palmer Prevention at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center on Friday. Included in the audience were state legislators, law enforcement officers and social workers.
James Clark, a worker at Palmer Prevention, said that in addition to some bath salts that contain cocaine, marijuana-laced candy bars and lollipops can now be purchased at some convenience stores. With names like “Kush-Pop” and “Stoner Ranchers,” they are indistinguishable from regular candy, according to Clark.
The luncheon is one of two annual events held by Palmer Prevention, a local nonprofit that works to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. Clark said alcoholic beverages that look like canned juices or iced teas called “alco-pops” are also available in convenience stores.
According to Tom Norton, the director of Palmer Prevention, alco-pops contain 3.5 ounces of liquor and should not be sold in convenience stores.
“Alco-pops are cheaper than a bottle of water,” Norton said. “They’re being sold in convenience stores and they look like those big juice cans, all disguised up.”
Norton said that hard alcohol can be “a lot more addictive and a lot more dangerous”.
“Distilled spirits is a different animal altogether,” he said. “I’ve never seen a person light a fire with a malt beverage — distilled spirits is not for human consumption.”
Sen. Michael Walters, Reps. Charles Graham and Garland Pierce all spoke at the event, which was attended by Sheriff Kenneth Sealey.
“Our youths are our focus,” Walters said. “Maybe in the future we won’t need Palmer Prevention, maybe in the future we won’t have these problems, but right now we do.”
Norton said that underage drinking continues to be a problem in Robeson County, and blamed store clerks who are not diligent.
“Forty percent of the stores in Robeson County that we checked in the last two months did not ask for identification when selling alcohol,” Norton said.
According to Norton, alcohol is easily accessible to children, especially if it is in the home.
“We’re trying to get parents to lock it up,” he said.
Norton said that innocent lives can be destroyed by alcohol.
“Fetal alcohol syndrome is prominent in this county,” he said. “Some of the most severe damages done to a baby is within the first two months of the pregnancy, causing learning disabilities, ADHD and physical deformities.”
Norton said that the longer a person delays drinking alcohol, the better the odds that it won’t become a problem.
“If you’re drinking at 21, you have 2 percent chance of having any alcohol problem in your life,” Norton said. “If you start drinking at 16, there’s a 40 percent chance that something will happen to you that’s not good because of alcohol.”
Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Health Department, said the annual luncheon is a good reminder of the dangers that lurk in the community .
“It helps the community focus on the issue,” Smith said. “Every year, there’s something different so this helps with the awareness and education of the county.”