By Julie D. Andrews
We were visiting my brother, his wife and their kids in Georgia. It was our first time in Peachtree City, a picturesque suburban haven, where it's hip (and safe) for teens to flit around on backwoods paths to ball fields and drive to local cupcake shops in decorated golf carts. The place seemed so first-kiss sweet and innocent. Yet, I still can't forget what happened there. Largely because it just wasn't the sort of thing you imagined going down in such a pleasantville. As my sister-in-law filled us in on the neighborhood news, she told us of a local dad who found his 16-year-old son, early on a Sunday morning, coiled at the bottom of the family hot tub, limp and lifeless. The honors student, who attended a nearby Baptist church and played junior-varsity soccer, had bought a package of Mojo Diamond Extreme Potpourri at a nearby convenience store, taken it home and smoked the OTC synthetic marijuana. In one puff of smoke, there vanished a just-beginning life, so bursting with opportunity and hope and yet-to-be-had tingly moments that the sheer thought of this boy's final breath still sends a jolt through my spine. Teens are impulsive. They're experimental, feel invincible and can rapidly get in way over their heads. Over Memorial Day, soaking in a hot tub at my sister's house in Maryland, I couldn't help but think of this tragedy, and want to level with my A-student, every-sport-playing 12-year-old nephew about the dangers of youthful experimentation—dangers that exist for every teen, no matter their GPA or extracurriculars. What’s the latest newfangled intoxicant? Powdered alcohol. On April 8, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau granted label approval for Palcohol packets, then, 13 days later, rescinded that approval. The government called the approval an error, but the manufacturer, Lipsmark, soon announced its plans to tweak and resubmit labels for final approval. Powdered alcohol is discreet—therefore, ideal for covert underage drinking. As Senator Chuck Schumer, who called on the Food and Drug Administration to ban Palcohol, pointed out, it can be easily slipped into pockets and shoe soles, and brought into parks, concerts, you name it. It can be cavalierly sprinkled onto food, mixed with water or snorted—a particularly big cause for concern. Snorted alcohol immediately alters the brain. While no research has yet been done, preventing us from knowing the full risks, we do know that snorted alcohol is absorbed—and can intoxicate—instantly and that doing so may significantly impair judgment and motor skills. Worse, predicts Joshua Lafazan, a member of the Syosset School Board and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, powdered alcohol could "certainly lead to many more instances of alcohol poisoning for youth." It's not your kids, it's the age and the time and the hormones and the peer pressure. Call it what you must, but talk to them. Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health.