Dakota Stephenson started vaping to help manage her anxiety. When 15-year-old Dakota Stephenson first started vaping with friends after school she never imagined it could have potentially deadly consequences.
A teenager ended up in ICU with a condition doctors suspect was linked to regular vaping
She is now speaking publicly to warn others about the potential dangers of vapes
There are mounting concerns about vaping advertisements targeting teens through social media
That's exactly what happened when the Sydney teen ended up in intensive care last September, with what doctors believe was EVALI, a new lung illness emerging among vape users.
EVALI stands for E-cigarette or Vaping product use-Associated Lung Injury, a lung condition first reported in the United States.
At the peak of her condition, Dakota was partially ventilated on full-face oxygen in the intensive care unit at the Children's Hospital at Randwick for three days, almost drowning because of her fluid-filled lungs.
Dakota Stephenson was partially ventilated in the intensive care unit for three days.
Her mother, Natasha Stephenson, said whenever Dakota took the mask off she was visibly struggling for breath so badly doctors initially thought she had COVID-19.
"She needed a high-flow face mask, she couldn't breathe without it," she said.
"It was horrendous."
Dakota had been rushed to hospital by ambulance just days before when back pain and trouble urinating turned into vomiting, rigours, rapid heartbeat and a temperature as high as 39 degrees.
"She was really struggling to breathe. She got worse and worse," Ms Stephenson said.
Within hours Dakota became hypoxic with not enough air getting into her lungs and all signs pointed to pneumonia in both lungs.
It was then she revealed to her mother that she had been secretly vaping for the past seven months, up to three times a week.
It is thought Dakota Stephenson's is the only suspected case of EVALI reported in Australia to date.
Dakota told the ABC she first started vaping in early 2020 as a way to manage her emotions.
"They kind of calmed me down in a way, like it was soothing to my anxiety," she said.
"The colours were just intriguing — all of it."
Within weeks the high school student started graduating to cartridges that also contained nicotine.
'It looks so innocent'
Dakota was released from hospital after a week, but months later the previously fit teen still struggled with basic cardiovascular exercise.
Her mother said she narrowly escaped permanent injury with some nodules still showing up on lung scans months later.
Dakota said she was speaking out to warn other teenagers about what she believes are the potential risks of vaping.
"It looks so innocent but it could kill you. It's so scary," she said.
Ms Stephenson said she was shocked to learn her daughter had been secretly vaping, saying neither she nor Dakota's father smoked and were very anti-smoking.
"The hardest part was definitely when they said they had to take her to the Children's Hospital," she said.
"Words can't describe as a parent how it made me feel."
The phenomenon of semantic contagion is a fascinating one, and it is has been used relentlessly in propaganda measures to recalibrate thinking around fixed ideas in all sorts of arenas.
A brief (and one aspect) take on this is, a process of reframing a word, term, phrase or principle for purposes of harnessing it for another focus, other than it’s intended specificity. It is often not necessarily a blatant misuse of the term, rather a re-tasking to suit an agenda not originally meant for the term.
Harm Reduction is just such a term that has been so engaged and recalibrated over recent years.
This important Pillar of the National Drug Strategy was set in place in an attempt to reduce the burden of disease, disorder and/or death of those caught in the tyranny of drug addiction, whilst simultaneously assisting them to exit the drug use that is causing said dysfunctional states.
A useful meme employed by many proponents of this framework is, ‘You cannot rehabilitate a dead drug user.’ Again, a useful linguistic tool for a semantic contagion strategy, because whilst it is true, and using absolute and dramatic terms like ‘death’, lends a certain urgency (as it should), that is not the final agenda of the pro-drug advocate.
Of course, no Harm Reductionist who hates drugs and wants drug users off these life diminishing toxins wants a user to die. However, the pro-drug use proponent will hide behind the hijacked nomenclature of ‘preventing death’ (only one of many other lifedestroying harms of drug use), not for the purpose of exiting drug use and develop full humanity, instead it is to continue drug use whilst managing as many ‘harms to the high’ that can be mustered.
Again, the important Harm Reduction platform was set up to assist those current drug users, reduce the activity that is causing harm, not just the ‘harm’ of the self-destructive activity they are now – if dependant – trapped in. The intent of this was always, reduce use, reduce harm, and exit drug use.
However, this well-meaning platform, when employed by those who not only want to, by deliberate design, move into illicit drug use, but endeavour to normalize their ‘recreational’ choices, have – used semantic contagion – (among other strategies) to give their agenda some traction.
Nowhere is this more evident that with Pill Checking program promotion.
That aside, the well-meaning agenda of the genuine Harm Reductionist, may be to
Minimise adulterants to the illicit psychotropic toxin being courted
Even advise of the risks of ‘uncut’ pure illicit psychotropic toxins
It is the more potent and tangible messaging of such a (if permitted by law) mechanism that undermines the other two priority pillars of the National Drug Strategy – Demand and Supply Reduction. This vehicle tacitly affirms the act of seeking out a ‘party enhancement’ substance – undermining Demand Reduction. This demand consequently only adds to the supply driver – undermining Supply Reduction. Both actively undermining these priority pillars of the National Drug Strategy.
You do not ‘extinct’ a behaviour by endorsing, equipping and enabling it. However, that no longer seems to be a focus with illicit drug use by a small, but noisy cohort. Yet in the same National Drug Strategy, the cessation focus is the only model for tobacco, and with remarkable success.
So, why is this actively avoided in the illicit drug use space? We’ll let you investigate this incongruence at your leisure.
Those permission models, particularly for punters who wants to experiment, is a green light hard to resist, especially when ‘nestled in’ among other contagions, such as peer pressure, ‘psycho-naut’ propaganda and the parochial permission of this now ‘drug law free’ arena called a Music Festival.
All of this does not eliminate the risk of drug use harm – even of the now ‘checked and permitted’ variety, if for no other reason than illicit substances are toxins and unpredictably idiosyncratic in nature and impact.
Death, whilst a drastic and instantly permanent outcome of substance use is tragic, there are other harms that can be incurred, some of which are also not only debilitating, but can be permanent; and ‘endorsement’ mechanisms that permit activities that can facilitate those harms is not good public health practice.
Governments of civil society are supposed to provide safe, healthy and productive environments for their citizens. Environments that are protective, not mere ‘risk mitigating’ spaces.
Whilst some citizens may seek to live counter to such priorities and expect to create a culture that not only undermines best health and well-being practice, but extol its ‘virtues’, they still continue to look to the same government for assistance when things go ‘pear shaped’. Often with a view to maximize their well-being whilst choosing to remain in a drug use – and a consequently self-harming – context.
Legislatively endorsed pill-checking is incongruent with best-practice health strategies and clearly current illicit drug laws. The simple mantra, ‘they’re gunna do it anyway’ has never been a credible precedent for best practice strategies, at least in an ethically focused civil society.
It is important that all the semantic texts and subtexts are investigated.
People under 20 who used vapes were more than three times as likely to have ever smoked tobacco cigarettes, and more than twice as likely to have smoked cigarettes in the previous month, according to a review of 25 studies globally.
Serene Yoong, an associate professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and the study’s lead author, said the findings pointed to the need for youth prevention programs and better regulation of e-cigarette products.
“Every single study showed an association between [e-cigarette] use among non-smokers and increased use of cigarettes at follow-up,” she said.