The dangers of 'pharming parties'

Many parents aren’t aware of the dangers of “pharming” parties and fail to talk to their teens about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs, according to a recent review article in the journal Contemporary Pediatrics.

While teens abusing prescription drugs is not a new problem, there have been increased concerns that “pharming” parties are growing trend. The term seems to come about in the early to mid-2000s.

At a pharm party, kids bring whatever pills they can get their hands on and may not be sure about what they have on hand. The pills are thrown into a communal bowl and the participants grab handfuls to consume, often washing them down with alcohol. This dangerous game can lead to death as it did for Corey Stauzo in 2007, according to article.

We asked the authors of the article, Renee Turchi, MD, MPH, an associate professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health and College of Medicine, and Susan Solecki, MSN, FNP-BC, PNP-BC, a clinical assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to tell us more about pharming parties and how parents can talk to their kids about them.

Do you feel like this issue is under the radar for my parents and caregivers? Why has it become a growing concern?

Unauthorized use of pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs by teens is a growing national problem. About 2.3 million kids, ages 12-17, abused prescription drugs in 2003, according to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. A survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse survey estimates that there’s been a 25 percent increase each year since 2001 in the use of sedatives and barbiturates among high school seniors.

Many parents have no idea that their child is addicted to these drugs. In some cases, they are relieved when they find out that their child is abusing prescription drugs rather than smoking pot or doing heroin. However, prescription drugs can be more potent than street drugs. Heroin sold on the street may be 10-40 percent opiate, but pharmaceutical-grade Vicodin could be 10 times more powerful an opiate than heroin.

How can parents talk to their children about the dangers of these "pharming" parties and prescription drug abuse?

It is critical that parents always create open and safe places for their children to discuss these issues. It would be appropriate for parents to discuss openly with their children that they may be exposed to parties where pills are passed around and educate them to the dangers and harmful effects of taking non prescribed medications. For example, CANDLE, an award-winning program located throughout the U.S., has a unique parent-child drug prevention program called the Reality Tour, where children ages 10 and older participate in an interactive educational program with their parents to learn and acquire tools to reduce the risk of substance abuse.

What are some signs a teen may be abusing prescription drugs?

Experts report that it is difficult to identify a teen who abuses prescription drugs because these medications are odorless, can be easily hidden, and may not manifest with unusual behavior such as stumbling or slurred speech. However, the following signs from Helpguide.org may help parents distinguish between the normal, often volatile, ups and downs of the teen years and the red flags of substance abuse:

• Having bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs

• Skipping class; declining grades; suddenly getting into trouble at school

• Missing money, valuables, or prescriptions

• Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed

• Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group

• Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities

• Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around

What are the most commonly abused drugs at these parties?

One study of intentional drug abuse in teenagers and children ages 6 to 19 revealed that 38 percent of intentional drug abuse involved non-prescription drugs, with dextromethorphan, caffeine, antihistamines, and non-prescription stimulants identified as the most commonly abused non-prescription drugs.

How are these teens obtaining these pills? Should parents be keeping medications locked up?

It’s estimated that about 70 percent of all people who abused prescription pain relievers obtained them from friends or relatives, often without permission. Parents should keep medicine cabinets locked and keep prescription drugs out of reach or range for both their children and their friends who may be visiting their home.

Children and youth should also be educated about the dangers of sharing or keeping their own medication stored safely. For example, medication used for ADHD  is becoming increasingly abused at camps and on college campuses.

How should we dispose of unused, unwanted, or expired medications?

You can contact your local police department or sheriff office for the closest drug take back box. You may also find authorized collectors in your community by calling the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has a guide of how to dispose of unused medications.


 

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