Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Down on the 'Pharm'

Pharm parties are the latest rage among high school students. When you hear the term "pharm" party, you may get a visual of driving to the country to listen to music and chat with friends under a large oak tree. Unfortunately, the dream ends there.
Pharm parties are gatherings where pharmaceuticals are passed out. Teens raid their parents' medicine cabinet (called "pharming") and take their loot to a party, where they pass drugs around without regard to dosage, side effects or drug incompatibility.
Pharm parties are the happening thing because they don't carry the stigma associated with illegal drug use. Some teens don't even consider themselves "doing drugs" because the drugs are prescription medication. Unlike the traditional drugs that parents are taught to look for, these drugs are easy to obtain and conceal. Also, there is less risk of police involvement because no one is going to the "shady" side of town to buy cocaine, heroin or marijuana.
Parents can no longer focus their attention solely on identifying alcohol and marijuana usage and paraphernalia. They must be mindful of all medications in the household and get rid of those that are not being used. Keeping a few pain pills around in case the old back flares up again is not wise.
All narcotics should be locked in a place where only the intended user has access. As much as one may hate the idea of keeping a log or counting pills, doing so is the best way to monitor the medicine cabinet. If you are not careful and you find your pills stolen, your physician may deny you a refill.
Substance use among teens was a problem before pharming. In 2003 The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse published these facts:
  • 10.8 percent of youth (ages 12-17) had used an illicit drug at least once in the prior month, according to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.
  • Substance abuse and addiction was expected to add at least $41 billion to the costs of elementary and secondary education for the 2000-01 school year.
  • 65.3 percent of youth who were heavy drinkers also used illicit drugs. Among nondrinkers, 5.1 percent used illicit drugs.
  • 48 percent of youth who smoked cigarettes used illicit drugs within the prior month. Only 5.3 percent of nonsmoking youth used illicit drugs within the prior month.
  • An estimated 1.1 million youth needed treatment for an illicit-drug abuse problem in 2001. Of this group, only 100,000 received treatment.
  • More than one-third of the sexually active young people reported that alcohol or drugs had influenced their decisions about sex.
  • Twenty-nine percent of sexually active individuals 15-24 years old said they had done more sexually when drinking or using drugs.
  • Youth who reported alcohol or illicit drug use during the past year were more likely to be at risk for suicide than those refraining from substances.

Adding a new concept to an old problem creates more issues. Pharming, alone, can lead to drug incompatibility and overdosing. Overdosing can lead to death. What will the statistics reveal in 2010 when the statistics include the concept of pharming?
If you're a parent, talk openly with your teens about drug and alcohol use. Demand accountability. You should know where your teens are and whom they are with.
Parents should consult one another. Coalitions can help monitor the problem, provide education and healthy alternatives. The cost of drug and alcohol rehabilitation is high with no guaranteed results. Focusing on prevention will produce healthier teens and safer communities while saving millions of government and private dollars.
We cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope school officials will fix this problem. Our children are depending on us!
The facts be viewed online at:

This is Beverly Scarlett's first column for The Chapel Hill News. She is an assistant district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties and lifelong Orange County resident. Readers may contact her at beverly.scarlett@gmail.com