The Dangers of Pharm Parties

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Teenagers are not immune to the rising problem of prescription drug abuse in this country. In fact, a dangerous new practice is coming to light which puts teens at terrible risk in this epidemic of abuse. They are called ‘pharm parties’ and the name says it all – parties where pharmaceuticals of both prescription and over-the-counter varieties are being heedlessly consumed. Parents need to be aware of the practice and alert to potential warning signs that your child could be at risk.

Despite years of press urging families to rid themselves of hoarded prescription medications or to at least keep them under lock and key, kids are still finding the family medicine cabinet to be an easy source of “feel good” drugs. Kids attending pharm parties have raided the family medicine chest for drugs of every stripe from serious painkillers like Vicodin to more seemingly innocuous medications like cold tablets. Once at the party, all of the drugs are dumped into a bowl and the resulting conglomeration is referred to as “trail mix”. The trail mix is passed around and attendees grab handfuls of drugs – this is referred to as “grazing”. Sometimes the pills are washed down with alcohol.

Pharm parties are not as rare as parents would hope. Directors of teen drug programs say that many in their care admit to having participated in pharm parties. Hospitals also report higher than ever numbers of teens admitted to the emergency room with cocktails of medications swirling in their bloodstream.

Teens have not lived long enough to have a proper perspective on how choices made in one moment can impact their future, but other explanations abound to explain why kids are turning to pharm parties.

  • More and more children with ADHD prescriptions are beginning to share their medications with one another
  • Teens struggling with depression may find it far simpler to pop a pill than to talk and work through feelings and issues with parents or their doctor
  • Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall have become known as ‘study drugs’ among kids who are not prescribed them for ADHD
  • Peer pressure may be harder to resist when the drugs being offered are not illicit drugs but rather familiar pills from mom and dad’s bathroom cabinet

Pharm parties pose a particular danger just because kids are taking multiple medications in a single swallow. The risk of accidental overdose from the practice is huge as is the potential for allergic reactions and risky negative drug interactions. Kids who must be rushed to the hospital after ingesting a cocktail of medications pose a dangerous puzzle to the ER staff who cannot identify which medications were taken and therefore what method of treatment to follow – what would counteract one drug may lead to harmful effects from another. In 2004, hospitals reported that one quarter of all admittances having to do with substance abuse were connected to overdoses of over-the-counter medications.

Parental vigilance really cannot be over-emphasized. Parents need to periodically purge their medicine cabinet of unused prescription drugs. They should secure any prescriptions that must be kept in the home, including their child’s store of ADHD meds. Parents should keep track of all the medications including over-the-counter drugs. It would be wise to discuss with a teen the dangers of overdose anytime a medication is administered. Finally, staying tuned to your child’s mental health is important – be on the watch for signs that your child may be feeling depressed or becoming aggressive.

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