Soda cans on the nightstand, a flashlight on the shelf, a few pieces of aluminum foil scattered on the dresser.

To a parent walking into a teenager’s room to drop off laundry, the items might look harmless. But as Aquia Harbour Police Chief Nate Thompson demonstrated Thursday, there might be more than meets the eye.

“Grab the flashlight,” he said to Aquia Harbour resident Wendy Desmond. “Does it feel funny?”

“It’s too light,” she said. “There’s no batteries in there.”

That was true, but the inside was hardly hollow. The flashlight was being used as a storage container for drugs—just like a Mountain Dew can that Thompson had tweaked, as a teenager might.

He used a can opener to take off the can’s lid, then dumped out the soda. He put in a smaller plastic bottle, to hold bags of drugs or even alcohol, and applied plaster of Paris to keep the contents in place.

After he put the Mountain Dew lid on again, the can looked as if it had never been opened—and as Thompson said, who’s going to walk into a room and shake a can full of soda?

“It’s amazing how creative kids can be to hide the naughty things they’re doing,” Desmond said.

Thompson turned an office in the North Stafford police department into a teenager’s bedroom—complete with trash and dirty socks on the floor—for an event called “Hidden in Plain Sight.” Sponsored by the Harm Prevention Group of Be Well Rappahannock, the educational session was designed to show parents and guardians how to spot drug and alcohol use happening under their noses.

Thompson brought people through, two at a time, and asked them to point out accessories that could be associated with substance abuse. Aluminum foil, wrapped like a tube, could be used as a pipe, he said, and a smaller square of it, no bigger than a dime, often is packaged with heroin.

He pointed to the Bob Marley poster on the wall and said no offense to the late reggae singer, but the colors associated with him—green, yellow and red—also are typically associated with marijuana. Likewise, April 20 has become a “counter culture” holiday when participants come together and celebrate cannabis use, so “420,” “4:20” and “4/20” are code for marijuana or a time to get high, according to the Hidden in Plain Sight website.

Thompson checked with area narcotics officers to get paraphernalia and products that resembled what’s being circulated locally. One table, outside the bedroom, had small bags marked as cocaine, purple heroin or crystal meth. They weren’t real—Thompson said most of it was flour—but the items in the bedroom were authentic, he added.

Glen and Theresa Woodyard had visited Jamaica a year ago, so she recognized a grinder, tucked into a top drawer. She didn’t know what it was for, though.

Thompson explained it’s used to cut through marijuana and sift out stems and other bad chunks. An ad on Amazon advertises the “10 Best Weed Grinders So You Don’t Waste Your Good Marijuana Bud.”

When Thompson showed the couple the big bong, tucked away in a teen’s backpack, Theresa Woodyard just shook her head and said, “Wow. It’s really scary to think there’s that much out there that kids can get their hands on.”

“They can just use a soda can,” her husband said. “That’s the really interesting part.”

Thompson also had stacked two cans, criss-cross, atop each other, with holes drilled in the top one. He called it the “poor man’s pipe.” He also had tea-light candles in the room, not to create a relaxing atmosphere, but to heat up whatever powder or crystal might be melted on a spoon.

There also were two thin glass cylinders, the kind used to hold a single rose and sold at convenience stores. They make the perfect crack pipe, Thompson said.

“It’s really eye opening,” said Erin Sever, an Aquia Harbour parent of two, ages 4 and 14. “A lot of things I know, but some of these things, I didn’t even think about.”

One couple talked about a son who stashed empty beer cans into his box spring under the mattress. They knew he had a problem with alcohol and got him into a program, where he learned other methods of substance abuse. He came home and huffed all the Freon from two air conditioning units, the mom said.

John Reinboldt looked shocked throughout the tour. He recognized a hypodermic needle, on the floor in the corner, but was aghast at almost everything else. When Thompson squeezed a tennis ball to show that it had been cut along a seam and stuffed with drugs, Reinboldt said, “Oh, my Lord.”

He turned to someone who had used a few of these products in the past and asked, “Is this valid?”

When the other man said it was, Reinboldt said: “That’s just sad. If only they would take all that creativity and put it in their homework.”

Be Well Rappahannock plans to present the session again in August and September in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County. For more information, contact Michelle Wagaman at 540/374-3337, ext. 104, or

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Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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