Drug Scavenger Hunts for Parents: ‘Mock Bedroom’ Tours Show Teen Stash Spots

Across the country, local police forces and drug-prevention organizations are unmaking beds, spreading dirty laundry on the floor and leading parents into these carefully arranged messes for a guided “scavenger hunt”—a tour of the many hiding places, from fake-bottomed soda bottles to the brims of ball caps, where their teenage sons and daughters are concealing drugs.

Welcome to the “mock bedroom,” a recent and increasingly popular innovation in the War on Drugs.

As the nation’s prescription pill-fueled heroin epidemic shows no sign of abating, mock bedrooms are appearing across the country—and are tacit encouragement for parents to engage in both snooping and snitching.

Parents are informed of the many hiding spots where a syringe could lurk—up to 70 in an average kid’s nest—and they’re also acquainted with what used to be the stock-in-trade at headshops, now migrated to online merchants like Amazon and eBay: drug hiding-places disguised as common household items. You know, you got your dummy smart phones (actually a carrying case—for drugs!), your fake-bottomed soda bottles (a perfect place… for drugs) and even the old hollowed-out book trick.

And plenty of old-fashioned, “Just Say No”-era fear, parental paranoia and suspicion. 

Kids are now hiding drugs inside everyday items,” Wisconsin-based WISN reported. “What looks like air freshener or even a battery might be a warning sign.”

The mock bedrooms, and accompanying media reports, achieve varying levels of hysteria and absurdity.

One in New Hampshire fingered both mouthwash and shoelaces as items of concern—the former could be used to hide alcohol (or, as WMUR-9 describes Scope, “a way to get drunk”); the other could serve as a tourniquet to prep a vein for a needle. Another fake bedroom in Wisconsin, set up by a mother-and-son team, the latter of whom was addicted to heroin at 16, included a High Times magazine as an “obvious” red flag indicating problematic drug use, the local television station reported.

Like the cops and the parents who run them, drug-awareness programs are nothing if not zealous.

As such, the fake bedrooms can go a bit overboard. At one mock bedroom at Emmaus High School in Pennsylvania, the mock teen had stashed a syringe in a sports poster, acid tabs under the face of a watch and a large stash hidden in a dummy stuffed animal, cartel-crossing-the border style.

“I’m getting a little fatigued,” father-of-three Peter Fisher told the Morning Call, after being subjected to 10 minutes of this. “This kid’s like a drug lord.”

It wasn’t clear who paid for every snoop session, but in some jurisdictions, public money clearly goes toward “educating” parents on how to best conduct “safety sweeps”—and, eventually, how to snitch on their kids.

In Johnson County, Arkansas, the county sheriff-run Drug Task Force was the organizer of a fake room tour making the rounds. This one had “a long list of creative hiding spots for drugs,” in the words of Nick Jay, a “public safety officer” at the University of Iowa and a member of the Johnson County Drug Task Force, which has conducted such illustrious stings as the bust of a 72-year-old woman fooled into selling a lone gram of heroin to an undercover officer.

Police insist that this is about education—though they do encourage parents to call the cops.

“We want parents to call us,” said Lt. Anne Perriello, with the Pelham, New Hampshire police. “If they find drugs in their child’s room, call us. We will work with them. We’re not going to go to their house and just arrest their kid.”

That’s nice, because if effective parenting is about building trust, one way to take that trust and blow it apart would be to take the nuclear option of calling in the police.

Perhaps there is some value, even for a worldly cynic aghast at public resources and parental time being used in this way. Part of the purpose of the mock bedroom exercise is to explain to the naive rubes responsible for the nation’s future what, exactly, today’s drugs look like. Concentrated cannabis wax, for example, looks like peanut butter, according to one police source. (We think it looks more like “wax”—hence the clever name).

But the parents of today’s teenagers grew up sometime between the 1970s and the 1990s, which is to say, in the not-too-distant past. Today’s parents are the Spicolis and the Harolds and Kumars of a generation ago—they pulled all these same tricks within the past 20 years.

And that’s if they weren’t actually subtle about it, or good at hiding. Outmoded, drug-cop-approved tossing tactics won’t be much help in a time when the only requirement to buy MDMA from the security of your home and have it delivered by a federal employee with a pension is a bitcoin wallet.

Parents: By all means, please be familiar enough with your kids’ behavior to notice when something as calamitous and life-changing as a serious drug habit appears. The state of being high or hungover is not subtle, nor are sharp changes in physical appearance, demeanor, sleeping habits and the sudden appearance of shitty friends.

There will be ample warning signs that have nothing to do with a witch-hunt looking for novelty soda bottles.

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