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Office of Student and Family Support

Student Vaping, Marijuana, and Opioids - Risks and Resources

To:Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, and Principals
From:Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, Commissioner, Department of Public Health,
Date:Friday, April 5, 2019

School faculty and staff play a key role in educating, identifying needs, and providing support for referrals for students with substance use related problems as well as working with families to address these issues. The information below is meant to serve as a resource on how schools can address the increased use of vaping and marijuana as well as prevent the use of opioids. We would be grateful if you would also share this information with parents/guardians, and Parent Teacher Organization (PTOs), to include them in these efforts.


To protect our youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction, a new set of Massachusetts state laws dealing with the sale and use of traditional tobacco products and vaping products went into effect on December 31, 2018. These laws expanded "tobacco product" definition to include vaping products and prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing these products.

Electronic nicotine delivery systems are noncombustible tobacco products, and are known by many different names. They are sometimes called e-cigarettes, e-cigs, mods, vape pens, vapes, or JUULs. Most vaping devices contain and deliver nicotine. Nicotine use in early adolescence causes changes in the brain that make life-long addiction much more likely for young vape users. These devices are still very new, so many of the long-term health consequences of their use is not known. Still, mounting evidence shows that these devices are not harmless.

A new public awareness campaign aimed at youth, Different Product, Same Dangers, was created with input and feedback from young people across the state. Also, view a toolkit to address the use of e-cigarettes in schools and communities along with facts and information for parents.


Now that marijuana is legal in Massachusetts for adults 21 and older, parents and others may wonder how to talk to children and teens about marijuana, its increased availability, and its effects. Regular marijuana use by teens can affect memory and cause learning problems, aggression, anxiety, and increase risky behaviors. It is never too early to start having age-appropriate conversations with children and teens about the risks of marijuana.

Learn how marijuana can affect the body, mind, and health as well prevention resources.


Another topic of concern of course is the opioid epidemic, which shows little sign of letting up across the country. We know that 2 out of 3 teens misusing prescription pain meds say they get them from family and/or friends, and some teens share their prescriptions or may sell them to peers and classmates.

A Massachusetts campaign focuses on increasing awareness in adults and parents about the power of talking with youth. We know from research that teens who talk with parents or other adult about opioids are less likely to misuse them.

If you have identified a child or family in need of treatment services, the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline is the statewide, public resource for finding substance use treatment and recovery services. Helpline services are free and confidential, and trained specialists can assist families in navigating the treatment system and available options. Visit the Helpline or call 800-327-5050.

A host of materials is available on our newly updated website, the Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse: We encourage all those who work with children and youth to visit the site and download our free materials on these and many other public health topics.

One additional note: if you have identified a child or family in need of treatment services, the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline is a confidential resource for finding substance use treatment and recovery services. Trained specialists can help families navigate the treatment system and available options. Visit or call 800-327-5050.

Thank you as always for helping to protect youth and keep the next generation safe from the harm of nicotine, marijuana, and opioid addiction. Should you have any questions, please contact Samantha Graham, Substance Use Prevention and Intervention Specialist at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. You may also contact Brian Jenney at the Department of Public Health.

Last Updated: April 5, 2019

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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