Spotting Subtle (or Not So Subtle) Signs of Drug Abuse in Your Neighborhood

America has experienced an unprecedented growth in the number of people using drugs and even the number of drugs available to be used. Additionally, the use of highly addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine have moved out of the inner cities and urban areas and into suburbs and even small towns. As a result, there are neighborhoods showing signs of drug use that never revealed this presence before. Is your neighborhood one of them?

Here’s some signs recently found in my neighborhood. You might also find them in yours.

Cigarillo Wrappers

A package of cigarillos specifically designed for smoking marijuana.

Do you see wrappers from small cigars in roadside trash? This type of small cigar is popular with pot smokers. The smoker breaks the wrapper, empties out the tobacco and refills it with marijuana.

Notice that this cigarillo packaging also carries the word “Kush”—the name of a strain of marijuana. This particular brand of cigarillos comes in a variety of flavors including watermelon, grape, wild berry and strawberry. This product is not about a fine tobacco smoking experience.

Swisher Sweets, White Owl, Dutch Masters—any small cigar can be used for this purpose.

Suboxone Packaging

Suboxone wrapper

Suboxone is a synthetic opiate given to those who are addicted to painkillers or heroin. Without getting a person as high as those drugs, Suboxone replaces those opiates in a person’s body, preventing the onset of withdrawal sickness. This small blue and white wrapper would have contained a sheet of film made from buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is the opioid and naloxone is a drug that blocks the effects of an opioid. The inclusion of naloxone is intended to prevent an individual from trying to get high by dissolving and injecting the film.

This prescription medication is distributed by a medical doctors and is taken home by the patient. If you see this wrapper, someone in your neighborhood is being treated for opioid addiction.

Rolling Papers

Packaging for rolling paper cones.

At one time, there were only a couple of brands of rolling papers but now there are dozens. Some are made from organic hemp, some from corn and some are flavored with raspberry, peaches, blackberry, pineapple and other choices.

This packaging previously contained five different sizes of cone-shaped papers made in Spain. The papers themselves are made from hemp.

Addicted Individuals

Addicted man with baggy, dirty clothes

You may see individuals you suspect of drug use. When the person has been using a drug like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or synthetic drugs to the point that he has suffered serious damage to his life, he takes on certain characteristics you might note.

The person will usually be underweight and his clothes may be too large for him. He and his clothes will usually be dirty. Especially with heroin, the addicted person looks like he is in perpetual pain. (A homeless person will often look pretty similar but the expression of pain is not so pronounced.) This individual walks back and forth down your streets, often panhandling to try to obtain the money for his next fix.

Other Signs

Where injecting drug abuse is heavy, needles may be found in parks, under overpasses or in homes that have been emptied out. You may find empty pill bottles or loose pills. When a person has no access to drugs, he may buy or steal computer duster, spray paint or other substances that give off fumes so those fumes can be inhaled. In this case, you would find empty aerosol bottles or chemical-stained rags left behind where a person has been spending time.

Troublesome Residences

You may suspect that one or more of your neighbors has drug use or even drug sales going on. Their pattern of activities just doesn't resemble that of the rest of the neighborhood. If you spot signs like the following, you could be right:

  • Appearances of any of the above signs in the vicinity of the house
  • Blacked out windows
  • Sight-obstructive or unusual security measures are implemented
  • Many people stopping by for short visits, day and night
  • Odd smells coming from the home

What to Do?

If you see these signs, you are right to be concerned about the safety of your children and property. You would be very smart to step up your drug prevention conversations with your children. Make sure to cover a variety of drugs, not just marijuana and alcohol. Explain the dangers of each honestly. Don’t exaggerate the harm in an attempt to scare your children away from drugs. If they find out the truth is different, they may discount everything you say. You can learn more about a variety of drugs on the Narconon website.

Getting rid of troublesome neighbors can be difficult. Keep a notebook of your observations and comings and goings, talk to your neighbors about what they have observed and pool your information. Do not directly engage the neighbors themselves. Most police departments have tip lines you can utilize to report these observations. Call from a safe location and provide specific information on what you have seen. This article lists many more actions you can take.

A troubled property may be a rental. Contact the owner or property manager with your concerns. Most leases state that a tenant can be evicted for illegal activity.

Consider adding video surveillance to your property, with cameras positioned so they also collect footage of the surrounding area. You can provide this footage to the police if they can use it.

Work with your neighbors and civic organizations to improve conditions such as street lighting, repair of city and private property, and awareness of drug use or sales.

Keeping your home, your family and your neighborhood drug-free is a valuable and important action you can take to protect those you love and your entire community.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.