Madison Consolidated Schools announced Thursday that eight students had been taken to King’s Daughters’ Hospital ER in the last four days with similar symptoms, including elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, fluctuated breathing patterns, some limpness or a loss of consciousness. Evidence of vaping, including pods and cartridges, has been confirmed in all situations, a news release from MCS said.
A ninth emergency transport Friday morning was confirmed.
Madison School Superintendent Jeff Studebaker said Friday morning that the school system still is trying determine what substance made the young people ill. He said the school system asked Indiana State Police to have its labs try to determine what the students had come into contact with. “This stuff is dangerous,” Studebaker said.
Studebaker said his concern is that there might have been more than one person or one source where students obtained the substance or substances, noting the difficulty of trying to control access to vaping pods and cartridges when they are readily available in multiple places including Internet sales.
“We are investigating a number of leads and encourage students to immediately cease use of these types of devices,” School Resource Officer Jacob McVey said in the news release Thursday. “Our primary focus is to determine the contents and origin of these devices and what (if anything) may be contained in these pods.”
Madison Schools also are working with King’s Daughters’ Hospital, Jefferson County Health Department, City of Madison Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and the State Department of Health.
Additional nursing staff were sent to MCHS this week as a precaution to address any other cases until more is understood, the school said. The school said it was being as “diligent as possible” with hallway and restroom area supervision, but Studebaker noted Friday that one of the difficulties is that because the devices are so small and easily hidden, students can be using them anywhere on school facilities or buses without being noticed immediately.
He said the nicotine content in the devices becomes so addictive that students sometimes cannot overcome the urge to use the devices.
Studebaker said his hope is that the school can come up with a plan to help students get the help they need.
School officials acknowledged the cases and presented a larger, continued concern regarding the use of e-cigarettes.
Numbers from the Indiana Department of Health, which report 62 confirmed cases of vape-related lung injuries, five deaths and 62 probable cases in the state have been recorded since August 2019.
Fifteen of those cases were patients ages 13-17 and the majority — 57 confirmed or probable cases — were 18 to 29 years old.
Indiana has one of the highest rates of vape-related lung injury in the Midwest, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The only states with as many or more cases in the region were Minnesota and Illinois, which has 200-249 cases and ties with Texas for the highest rate of incidence.
E-cigarettes were pushed to the forefront of public health concerns after a rash of lung injuries and deaths were reported for the first time last year. Since then, lung injuries from vaping have amounted to 2,758 hospitalizations and 64 deaths in the U.S. as of Feb. 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is not legal for people younger than 21 to purchase vaping devices or e-cigarettes. In December, President Donald Trump signed legislation raising the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, which includes all e-cigarettes and flavor cartridges. The Food and Drug Administration issued a ban on flavored vape cartridges that it says appeal to children, such as fruit and mint flavors. Larger “tank-based” vaporizers that customers can manually fill were left exempt.
As for what injuries the Madison students sustained and their general conditions, that will remain unknown unless their legal guardians authorize the release of information, said Dave Ommen, public information specialist for KDH.
“Even if there are times when basic things can be released, it still remains very, very basic if they give authorization — a lot of times confirming if someone is there, or confirming a very, very general condition without getting into anything too specific about what their health condition may or may not be,” Ommen said.
In keeping with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, Ommen said KDH would not disclose medical information about minors unless OK’d by a parent.
Patient verification still is required with adult patients and any patient can request privacy status, meaning the hospital cannot confirm they were in their care. Timing is also a factor.
“If we have the full name of a person and it is an adult, we can check to see the status of whether the patient may or may not be here, but again, that will depend on factors of whether they’re currently being evaluated or if they’ve been admitted, and then whether that patient has requested privacy status,” Ommen said.
Ommen said the same laws apply to schools wanting to know the conditions of their students. He said he is not certain of any exceptions to the rule.
“We’re always going to err on the side of protecting the patient’s privacy, so there may have to be some additional authorization involved for that information to be released even back to the school,” Ommen said.
Madison has already worked to prevent emergencies by educating students on the health risks and setting up a tip line for SROs on its website, McVey said in August after vaping surpassed cigarette use in high schoolers statewide.
McVey said the vapes — which can look similar to USB drives and are hard to recognize — are common at the middle and high school, and he‘s found them on students as young as third grade.
Any first-time-offending student is put through a program that requires community service hours, a class on tobacco and e-cigerettes and a Powerpoint presentation that they present to an SRO or administrator.
“We tell them ‘Hey, this isn’t so much a discipline issue as it is we care about you and your health,’” McVey said.
While not on the scale of this week’s events, McVey said he had seen some students have allergic and other adverse reactions to the juices in e-cigarettes. He’s constantly having to confiscate them, he said.
“I’ve had to confiscate six this year,” McVey said at the time. “And we’re only a couple weeks in.”
Students, school employees or parents with more information can report a tip to SROs at

From the Indiana Department of Health Website
In Indiana, the use of e-cigarettes and vaping among youth has risen more than 350 percent among high school and middle school students since 2012. The Indiana State Department of Health began investigating vaping-related severe lung injuries in early August 2019. The number of vaping-related lung injuries continues to rise steadily in Indiana and nationwide. This is a rapidly changing situation, and ISDH continues to gather data on cases and collaborate with local partners and healthcare providers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to learn more about these lung injuries and determine potential causes. The CDC recommends that until more is known, people consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products if they are concerned about these health risks.