Monday, January 2, 2012

What Do You Think?: Pharming Parties


Steve just moved to a new school this year. He is meeting new friends and becoming more and more popular. One day at lunch, his friends are talking about Billy’s party on Friday. They invite him and tell him it is a “Pharm Party” (Pharmaceutical Party). Steve is a little confused on what that is so he asks his friends about it. They tell him just to grab some pills from his parent’s medicine cabinet and bring them with him on Friday.

Friday comes along and Steve has three containers of pills. He doesn’t know what they are. Steve gets picked up by his friend and his friend’s mom and they head to the party. She drops them off at Billy’s house with pockets full of pills. They go inside, are handed a beer, and then they all sit around in a circle with a bowl in the middle. Everyone starts dumping in all their pills into the bowl. Billy mixes the pills and then tells everyone to take a couple and swallow them with their beers. Steve looks down and stares at the bowl not sure what to do next. 

Questions for Discussion:
  1. What would you do if you were Steve?  What are the pros and cons of each path he could take?
  2. What do you think are potential consequences of mixing different prescription drugs and alcohol?  Could Steve or his friends die from doing this type of partying?  
  3. Considering how dangerous it is, why do you think the teens are participating in this type of partying?  What do they gain from it?
  4. Is it worth it for Steve to take a risk just to be popular?  Could he turn down the pills without offending his new friends?  If so how?
  5. How would his parents feel if they found out he not only stole their pills but then went to a party like this?  What if he or someone else was disabled or killed by taking their drugs?  Could his parents get in trouble with the law for that or would it be Steve’s fault?


** The new term "Pharm Party" refers to a party where prescription drugs are readily available in a potentially deadly mixture. The term "Pharm" is short for pharmaceuticals, which includes such drugs as Xanax, a strong tranquilizer and powerful pain killers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Often times mind altering psychotropic drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, and Wellbutrin, commonly advertised on television, are taken in concert with other powerful pain pills and tranquilizers at these pharmaceutical cocktail parties. Pharm party goers often refer to this potentially lethal concoction as "trail mix". The "trail mix" is usually served up in large bowls or baggies and handed out to guests in the same fashion as a hostess serves snacks and drinks at a cocktail party.

** Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse notes that about 2.3 million kids, 12 to 17, took prescription drugs illegally in the past year, based on 2003 figures. That's a 212 percent increase from the early 1990s. 

** Part of the allure of prescription drugs is that they can be easier for kids to get than illicit drugs. Some trade on their own prescriptions (obtained legitimately or by faking symptoms), while others steal from family members or order drugs from online pharmacies.

** Experts note that "pharming parties are a new social twist that contributes to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, which has worked its way into pop culture via message boards, song lyrics and even T-shirts."

** The fact that kids often alter the ways these drugs are to be taken increases the risk even further.  For example, they may crush the pills to achieve a quick high, even though many of these medications are meant to be slowly absorbed into the blood stream.  That leads to dangerous changes in heart rhythm and much more.

** The problem isn't just that kids can easily become addicted to painkillers like Oxycontin or Vicodin, antianxiety medicines like Valium or Xanax, or attention-deficit-disorder drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. Taken without proper supervision, those medicines can send kids to the emergency room. They can lead to difficulty breathing, a drop or rapid increase in heart rate or trouble responding when driving a car, especially when the drugs are combined with alcohol, as they often are.

** Experts of Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse say that of 9.4 million teenagers, 40 percent believe that prescription drugs are “much safer” than illegal drugs. Nearly three out of 10 teens also believe that there is “nothing wrong” with using prescription drugs without a prescription.

** Wrongful use of medicines can cause permanent physical disability as well as interfere with normal brain development.

What Mentors Can Do to Help With This:

** Do an exercise with your mentee. Bring a pair of glasses and have them try them on. Maybe even attempt to take a few steps. Let them know that it's a prescription, designed just for you (or whomever you borrowed them from), and that they're not for everyone, just like prescription medications. They can make you dizzy, fall down, feel out of place. You'd give them to someone else who lost their glasses, thinking it works for you, but it may not work for them in the same way. It's best to not take something that wasn't designed for you.

** Talk with your mentee about drugs and alcohol early and often. It’s always better to prepare them before they ever encounter it. Talk to them about the reasons why a person could choose to use drugs, and go over the consequences, and how they can powerfully destroy lives and families.

** Get educated on the subject of pharm parties and talk to your mentee about possible consequences of taking pills without a prescription, and especially mixing pills.

** Ask your mentee what he/she knows about pharm parties and if she/he has an opinion about it. 

 ** Help your mentee learn from other’s mistakes by sharing stories or personal experiences that did not end well

** Talk to your mentees about peer pressure and make them realize how making the wrong choice could have dangerous consequences. Advise your mentees about having personality and not simply doing what others consider to be cool. Help them come up with different things to say to get out of doing drugs without losing face with their friends.  Role play to practice so when the time comes they don’t have to think about it.

** Make sure your mentee knows the warning signs of an overdose, so if they are at a party and a friend is in trouble, they'll know what to look for and what to 911. Remind them it's better for their friend to stay alive and get in trouble than to know that they could have saved them...and didn't. They should turn them on their left side, check for breathing, see if they are responsive when you force open their eyes to see if the pupils change size.

** Here are several of the most successful ways for a teen to turn down drugs, ask your mentee which one sounds good to them and practice it with them.
1.     Give your reason and make it a joke to reduce tension and perceived rejection-  “No thanks, I need all the brain cells I can get for this math test I have tomorrow.”   
2.     Blame your parents (even if its not true)- “I can’t, my parents randomly drug test me.”  Or “I have to check in with my parents every x hours so I have to be sober or they will know and I will get in big trouble.  Sorry it's just not worth it.”
3.     Bad experience (yours or others)- “A friend did that and he went blind for a week! (Or had to go to the hospital etc.)  I’m so freaked out about that I couldn’t enjoy it, no thanks.”
4.  "I'd rather not spend the entire night on the toilet if it's a diuretic."

** If your mentee is abusing prescription drugs encourage them to seek treatment, and then contact your case manager to discuss options. You can say something like, "I've noticed some changes. I'm concerned and I'm worried and I'd like to help you get help." Approach it from a point of caring, rather than accusing.

A True Story, as shared by the Sheriff at the Carpinteria Cares RX Drug Abuse Forum on 11/2/11:

A 2010 22-year-old UCSB graduate went to a grad party. After about 4 or 5 drinks, he was offered a Xanax, which he took. Not long after, someone came up to him and said, "Hey, you gotta try this awesome new drug." Buzzed off the drinks and the Xanax, he didn't really think before taking the offer. He soon fell asleep, and his friends thought he'd just sleep it off. When he wouldn't wake up after a while, his friends called an ambulance. Thankfully he was young, so he didn't die. BUT all 4 major organ systems were affected. The concoction in his system cut off the flow of oxygen in his blood; he forgot to breathe and all his pain receptors were numbed. He suffered a minor stroke with kidney and liver damage. Thankfully he survived, but not everyone is so lucky.

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