Experts weigh-in on the connections between the opioid crisis and vaping

As school systems continue to warn students about the current opioid and Fentanyl crisis, many parents across the region have also been raising concerns about vaping. 

"I do think we need to be concerned with the prevalence and ease for all these products that are out there for our young people who do tend to experiment and who are developmentally prone to take risks," said Meghan Westwood, an Executive Director with Maryland Treatment Centers, "I think that they’ve gotten a message that it’s less dangerous and less problematic than cigarettes. And that it’s pretty prevalent among the schools. It’s easy to do. They go into the bathroom. They’re vaping at school." 

The big question is whether vaping is somehow connected to the opioid crisis – or whether it can lead to pills?

While Westwood and another Maryland Treatment Centers expert say there’s no direct evidence, the do believe vaping can be a gateway.

READ MORE: Youth overdose deaths increased by 120% in Montgomery County

Dr. Marc Fishman, a Medical Director with Maryland Treatment Centers tells FOX 5 it’s a topic that can be difficult to discuss. 

"There is a misunderstanding of the gateway hypothesis in which people exaggerate it and say, ‘Oh, one puff of a vape or one puff of weed and a week later, this young person will be under a bridge injecting Fentanyl.’ No, of course that’s not true," said Dr. Fishman, "of course that’s overdramatic. Of course that’s exaggerated. That takes time and most people do not progress, but the risk of progressing is vastly higher, the more you have developed a problem with those other pre-opioid substances."

Dr. Fishman told FOX 5 only a minority of teens get hooked onto pre-opioid substances, otherwise known as nicotine, cannabis, and alcohol. It’s also that small amount of kids experts are most worried about – the kids who may decide to take a risk and turn to pills. 

Other sources tell FOX 5, a more accepting culture of drug use among teens is also a major part of the problem. One source directed FOX 5 to search how many times "percs" shows up in lyrics on The reference is to the opioid, Percocet. FOX 5 found over 20,000 hits. We also searched "M30", referencing the M30 Oxycodone pills. Almost 1,300 hits came-up in lyrics. 

The problem is due to Fentanyl flooding the market, many people who think they’re buying these pills, are actually purchasing a counterfeit pill, laced-with the deadly synthetic drug, Fentanyl. Experts say Fentanyl can kill someone more experienced in using drugs, or someone experimenting for the very first time. 

READ MORE: Arlington teens treated for possible overdoses near Ballston Quarter

Westwood told FOX 5 there are some estimates 60 percent of the Xanax pills on the market in Montgomery County alone have Fentanyl.

Fishman says prevention is important but you can’t treat your way out of an epidemic exclusively. He argues, you have to stop the new cases coming in. Part of that prevention is getting to young people before they get into pre-opioid substances.

Steven Moreno is a Johns Hopkins Certified Substance Counselor, who also sees concerns with vaping leading to other drugs. 

"Lots of times an adolescent may divulge to mom or dad. So, start with an evaluation. Don’t just think, ‘Oh, everyone’s doing it. It’s the age. I did it. Everything’s different now from 15 to 20, 25-years ago. Marijuana is more potent. Different drugs, it’s a whole different ball game," Moreno told FOX 5. 

Vaping is not supposed to be allowed on school campuses yet many parents and students still say it’s an issue. 

Montgomery County Public Schools recently announced a "Student Restroom Monitoring Plan" to address vaping, other drug use and fighting happening in various high school bathrooms.

READ MORE: Police discover over 2000 Fentanyl pills after Montgomery County traffic stop

On the opioid battle, a Montgomery County Public Schools Spokesperson tells FOX 5 MCPS has now deployed Narcan 12 times since the start of the school year.

Fairfax and Prince George’s County’s public school systems were not able to answer that question in time for this report.

Loudoun County Public Schools declined to answer how many times Narcan was deployed, citing student privacy laws. A LCPS spokesperson also told FOX 5 Loudoun Valley High School saw 5 medical emergencies in the past two months, but would not confirm how many, if any, were student overdoses – again due to student privacy laws.