'Pharm Parties' Are Growing Teen Trend


Sept. 12, 2006 — -- Rick Cribb, now 25, recalls the days when he got high using prescription drugs illegally at parties.

He started when he was 19.

"I'd bring OxyContin [a strong painkiller], and somebody else would bring Valium [a tranquilizer], and we'd pretty much get blasted," Cribb said.

One party even proved deadly for his best friend when he overdosed on a dangerous mix of Benzodiazepine, a central nervous system depressant, and alcohol.

"I passed out and remember waking up and trying to move," said Cribb, of Buffalo, N.Y.

Cribb participated in what some call "pharm parties" before he got clean through a program called Teen Challenge.

Bringing whatever they could get their hands on, Cribb and his friends would meet, exchange drugs, and get high.

Featured in an episode of "Boston Legal" earlier this year, pharm parties are get-togethers where prescription drugs are exchanged.

Anti-anxiety pills (Xanax and Valium), painkillers (OxyContin and Vicodin), and attention deficit disorder drugs (Ritalin and Adderall) are common drugs of choice.

The parties are an outgrowth of a recent trend in teen drug use.

Nearly one in five teens reported trying prescription medications to get high, according to a 2005 survey of more than 7,300 junior high and high school students by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

That makes prescription drugs more popular than street drugs like ecstasy and even marijuana, according to the partnership.

While there is no hard data on just how common pharm parties are, this is not just the stuff of Hollywood drama.

Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama reported six on-campus pharming parties last year, including one involving a fifth-grader.

"Every kid who's going to participate brings something from their parents' medicine cabinet," said Jayne Carson, the network coordinator for the Helping Families Initiative, an advocacy group in Mobile.

Her office deals with the schools' reports and works with at-risk students.

"Then they all get together at school. Everybody dumps their pills into a brown paper bag, and they all take turns pulling out a handful of pills."

News reporters also uncovered pill-popping parties in a basement in northern New Jersey and a warehouse in Davie, Fla.

Despite the recent media attention, many of these get-togethers go undetected and unreported to the police.

"You only hear about it if it goes bad. … When somebody has a bad reaction to them," Carson said.

Most kids don't realize the dangers of prescription drugs and see them as a safer alternative to street drugs, said Jennifer Potter, the research program director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

"I compare OxyContin to using heroin. They are essentially the same. They are addictive. You're rolling the dice when you play with them," Potter said.

Opportunities for teens to get their hands on prescription drugs are plentiful, according to surveys.

A report issued last month by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse showed that 14 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds said they had been offered prescription drugs for a nonmedical purpose.

"This is not a passing fad. This in an entrenched behavior," said Steve Pasierb, the president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "And parents are clueless to it."

It is that lack of awareness that prompted the partnership to launch the first national prescription and over-the-counter medicine abuse education campaign.

Carson, the teen advocacy group director in Mobile, agrees that the word needs to get out to parents about the dangers of prescriptions drugs.

"They need to limit the access to prescription drugs, just like they would a gun," she said.

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