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Vaping incident hospitalizes 4 students

LCS 9th-grade students experience ‘medical distress’

Four Lapeer Community Schools ninth-grade students were hospitalized after “ingesting” an unknown substance through a vape pen late Wednesday morning.

At approximately 10:06 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, Lapeer Police Dept. officers were dispatched to Lapeer High School responding to reports of “students experiencing medical distress,” said Lapeer Chief Dave Frisch in a statement. “Students reported symptoms of dizziness, vomiting and having difficulties remaining alert.”

“Vaping” refers to the practice of inhaling vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device and is erroneously viewed by many, including younger people, as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. The term “vaping,” according to the Center on Addiction, is used because instead of tobacco or marijuana smoke, users exhale a fine-particle aerosol often mistaken for water vapor. In many vape pens, a cartridge contains liquid often comprised of propylene glycol and other additives, including nicotine or THC.

The students, two male and two female, were transported via ambulance from Lapeer High School to McLaren Lapeer Region after becoming “pale” and drifting in and out of consciousness en route to the high school from the Zemmer Campus, said LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie. Two students were later transported to Hurley Medical Center in Flint. All four students have been released from the hospital.

Frisch said in addition to the four students that suffered adverse reactions to the unknown substance, two additional students, both male, are reportedly involved in the “singular vaping incident.” The substance contained within the vape pen is as-of-yet unknown, but Frisch said both the vape pen and the substance within it are in police custody, with the substance transferred to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab in Bridgeport for testing, a process he estimates will take 2-3 weeks. “At this point in time, there’s no evidence to lead in one direction or the other on what the actual substance is,” he said. “The lab in Bridgeport will point us in the right direction.”

A joint investigation by school administrators and the district’s School Resource Officers to determine “everyone’s culpability,” said Frisch, is currently underway. “There’s cooperation between LPD and school administration, our investigators are working side-by-side with administrators.”

Wandrie said the safety and security of the students of the district is the highest priority, and the level of concern when it comes to vaping among the student population “should be at the highest level as a community.” The four students, he said “received medical attention immediately” upon exhibiting symptoms, and the incident serves as a “stark reminder’ of the dangers of vaping.

At approximately 12:30 Wednesday, district communications director Jared Field released a statement regarding the incident via the district’s Facebook page. “The students were taken to the hospital for treatment and further monitoring. The parents of the students have been notified. We do not know the nature of the substance at this time as it is currently being evaluated by medical staff,” said Field in the statement. “We ask that everyone be responsible with respect to passing along rumors and misinformation via social media or any other medium.”

“We will continue to have deeper conversations with our lawyer enforcement partners (regarding vaping),” Wandrie said.

Lapeer County Sheriff Scott McKenna, who last year spoke to students throughout the county on the dangers of vaping, briefly shared the status of the investigation with County Commissioners during Thursday morning’s Lapeer County Board of Commissioners meeting. McKenna said the incident can serve to create positive discourse throughout the community. “We have to start getting vocal about this, we have to talk about this,” he said. Once the investigation concludes, he said, he’ll “have a lot to say” about the vaping phenomenon among students both in Lapeer County and nationwide.

Nicholas Pugliese/The County Press