Pharm Parties: What Happens When the Party’s Over
Adolescence is a time of personal development, punctuated by separation from parents and clinging to peers. It is also a time of experimentation and boundary testing. Teenagers tend to exist in packs, all following the same trends at the same time. They like to let loose and party.
This is usually the first time in their lives that they experiment with drugs. Drugs and parties seem to go together, especially for teenagers. Pharm parties — when a group of teenagers get together to share drugs and have a good time — are becoming an alarming social trend.
For adults, it is easy to see the dangers of pharm parties. Pharm parties are just as dangerous as they sound. Experimenting with any type of drugs for recreational purposes can have a horrible outcome. Adding the peer pressure of adolescence makes these get-togethers even worse.
At these pharming parties, prescription drugs are the main event, sometimes the cost of admission.
Pharm is short for pharmaceutical and is used to describe the purpose of the gathering. Teenagers who raid their parents’ medicine cabinets come together to share the loot. Pharm parties are not restricted to teenagers, but teens are the primary demographic for this trend. Everyone brings the pills they could scrounge, putting them together in one big bowl. Participants take turns selecting a couple of the pills to try.
And, at these events, alcohol is mixed with random pills. For many teens, alcohol is also an experiment at this point in their lives, so they tend to overindulge. Though it is illegal for them to purchase alcohol, many have access to it at home or through an older sibling or friend.
Pharming party statistics are not readily available because these parties are very secretive. For that same reason, teens developed a special language to talk and text about these activities. Slang terms relating pharm parties include:
- Pharming — raiding the family medicine cabinet looking for pills.
- Pharm party — sharing various pills in potluck style.
- Recipe — combinations of different pharmaceuticals.
- Trail Mix — bowls and baggies of random pills.
- Punchbowl party — everyone’s drugs are mixed together in one bowl, and participants take random combinations.
The Dangers of Pharm Parties
Putting a bunch of controlled substances in a bowl with some over-the-counter goodies and blindly selecting a few to sample … is incredibly dangerous.
Every substance you put in your body has an effect: good, bad or both. Over-the-counter medicine is designed to relieve symptoms or make you better, restoring your health. Disease results from an imbalance of some sort within the body. Body chemistry is complicated — when there is one level out of whack, you don’t feel quite right.
By adding a substance to the mix that is meant to restore the balance, you could also throw it off in a different way. All medicines have side effects, even the ones that aren’t so bad. If you add a substance to your body that it doesn’t need, say you take cough medicine when you don’t have a cough, you are purposely upsetting the balance and suffering side effects with no up-side.
Now, consider what you’re doing by taking two medicines that your body doesn’t need at the same time. You will have two different substances upsetting your body’s natural balance. Plus, there is a chance those two substances do not combine well. Baking soda can be used as an antacid to settle a sour stomach. Vinegar can be consumed as a salad dressing to add a tangy flavor. When you mix baking soda with vinegar, it produces a carbon dioxide gas that can be toxic.
Pharming party drugs can include prescription narcotics and OTC cold medicines. If you grab two pills out of the punchbowl party that contain acetaminophen, you could be looking at an overdose. Here are some combinations that could come out of that bowl and be lethal:
- Antidepressants and painkillers — The result could be an overload of serotonin, causing high body temp and rapid heart rate.
- Painkillers and anti-anxiety meds — This combination could cause lowered heart and breathing rate.
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs and anti-fungal medication — Muscle weakness and kidney damage could result from this combination.
- Painkillers, anti-anxiety meds and muscle relaxers — All three lower heart and breathing rates, which could become too low with this combination.
Mix in some alcohol, and it becomes even more dangerous. Aside from the potentially deadly effects of alcohol itself — such as alcohol poisoning, addiction or death — it doesn’t combine well with many drugs. You’ve probably seen labels on certain medication bottles that warn not to take it with alcohol. Some substances are simply deadly when combined with alcohol. But if you are picking unlabeled pills out of a bowl and washing them down with a couple drinks, you won’t know which ones they are.
In addition, drinking alcohol reduces inhibitions, increasing risk-taking behavior. If you live through the first round of pharming party drugs, you’ll be emboldened to head for round two with a couple of cocktails under your belt. The natural danger warning signs are not likely to get in the way of you having a good time.
Why Do They Pharm?
If you are a parent, or any clear-thinking adult, you have to wonder who thought pharm parties were a good idea. This seems like risk-taking behavior to an extreme. Reaching into a bowl of mixed pills and taking a couple randomly is like playing Russian roulette. But these behaviors fit the profile of adolescent drug abusers.
The impulse-control and decision-making part of the brain develops last during adolescence, which can reach into the early 20s. Teens do not have a realistic sense of danger or their own mortality. They are still searching for their own identity, ironically by blindly following the crowd. Teens are hypersensitive to other people’s opinions of them, especially of their peers. They test their boundaries whenever they can, and some become the heroes of the crowd by going further than anyone else has dared.
Access is also an important part of drug abuse behaviors for adolescents. Their funds and mobility are usually limited due to age, so they find ways to get high on what is available to them. They discovered they could get alcohol legally in cough syrup, get high on over-the-counter cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine and alter their sense of reality by drinking several caffeine beverages like Red Bull.
- 6.5% of high school seniors smoke marijuana daily.
- Only 39.5% of high school seniors think marijuana is a dangerous drug.
- Prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by teens, after alcohol and marijuana.
- 40% of teenagers think over-the-counter drugs are safer than street drugs.
- 55% of teens perceive little or no danger in getting high on cough syrup.
While it doesn’t make much sense to adults to blindly combine drugs, mix drugs and alcohol, or take someone else’s prescription pills, these behaviors fit the teenage drug abuse profile. Adolescence can be a difficult stage of life to get through, which is why our kids need a lot of support from family, teachers and other mentors in their lives.
Why Are Prescription Drugs Easy to Find at Home?
Pharm parties would not exist without pharmaceuticals. While we can’t expect to shut down an entire industry —especially one that saves lives and reduces pain and suffering for millions of people — we could make some changes so pharm parties weren’t possible.
The FDA does its part to control the circulation of dangerous substances. Doctors and pharmacists contribute to the safe use of healing drugs. If patients were more compliant in following the rules, extra drugs would not be available in every medicine cabinet. There are several factors, however, contributing to the accessibility of medicines, especially by teens.
About half of all adults have at least one chronic disease. There are over a million people in this country who take prescription drugs on an on-going basis, not counting the people who are on drugs for an acute condition that may last two to four weeks, or longer. All of those prescription drugs cost money, and the amount adds up quickly for those taking them for long periods of time. Therefore, when there are pills left in the bottle at the end of a treatment period, people are reluctant to get rid of them. There is always a chance they could use them again in the future.
Even if there is no chance for future use, those pills represent money spent. It is hard to throw away something you paid for. Many people leave them in the medicine cabinet just because they don’t want to throw them away. Throwing medicine away is bad for the environment, as we’ve been told. You can’t put them in the trashcan because someone might take them and get sick. You can’t flush them down the toilet because they could contaminate the ground water. Disposing of unused medication is not easy. Some communities have locations where you can turn them in to a pharmacist or some government entity. This process is onerous — it’s easier to just leave them in the medicine cabinet.
Over-the-counter drugs can also be expensive and difficult to dispose of when you no longer need them. Since OTC drugs are so easy to obtain, though, most of us are more likely to stockpile them at home. There is nothing worse than getting sick and having to drive to the drugstore to get the medicine that will relieve your symptoms. It is much better to have the medicine at home and simply go to your medicine cabinet to get what you need.
Cost, availability and difficulty in disposal are the main reasons why most people have a supply of unused, unneeded and potentially expired drugs hanging around their house. These supplies are easy targets for anyone who wants to experiment with substances. Most people don’t have a lock on the medicine cabinet — anyone walking through the house, from household members to the babysitter — can easily get at them for free.
How to Prevent Loved Ones From Participating in Pharm Parties
Since teenagers are the primary participants in pharm parties, parents have a good chance of stopping this trend. Access is a key component to teen drug abuse, so limiting access is a good place to start. Other steps you can take include:
- Disposing of unused prescription drugs. Find out where the drop-off locations are in your community and get there. Make a habit of asking your pharmacist when you pick up your prescriptions where you can take any unused portion.
- Cleaning out the medicine cabinet. Go through all of your medicines and supplements, disposing expired batches. Manufacturers include an expiration date for a reason, and it is not just to sell you more medicine. Drugs lose their effectiveness after a certain period of time, and exposure to heat and air can alter their chemical make-up.
- Keeping track of your medicines. Storing all medicines in one place will make it easier to keep track of what you have. Check your medicines periodically to be sure it is not mysteriously dwindling.
If you have children in your household, no matter what their ages, it is important to keep a handle on the drug supply in your house. Frequent visitors — such as family and friends or a cleaning lady or exterminator, any one who walks through your house — can potentially loot your medicine cabinet. It is your responsibility to keep the medicines you’ve purchased away from people who might want to abuse them or give them to others to abuse.
Talking to your kids about drugs is another good way to keep them safe. You should:
- Help them see that all drugs are dangerous, not just the illegal ones.
- Make a point of reading the dosage instructions and warnings to them when your kids are sick and need a prescription medication.
- Tell them what you do with the unused pills when they’ve recovered from their illness.
- Talk to them about the proper use of cold medicines and other OTC drugs.
If they see these things are important to you, that you treating even OTC drugs like they are potentially dangerous, they will develop the same healthy respect for them.
If you suspect your child or someone you love is participating in pharm parties, the best thing you can do for them is to contact 12 Keys. Our compassionate addiction specialists can advise you over the phone about the best way to handle your particular situation.
Pharm parties are dangerous. Anyone participating in them is displaying drug abuse behaviors that can be addicting and deadly. We can guide you through this difficult time and help get your loved one on track to recovery as quickly as possible.
Adolescence is an important milestone, a time when we have to let our kids test their boundaries and experiment to discover who they really are. But as a parent, you also have to keep them safe. Together, you and your child can work through this important stage of development by sharing ideas and talking about risks. As a parent, though, you need to know where to draw the line, and keeping them away from pharm parties is a very important step.