Pharm parties expose teens to dangers of mixing prescription drugs

Prescription pills are becoming an increasingly popular drug of choice among teens, in part because of their accessibility.

“Pharm” parties are an emerging trend where an assortment of pills is mixed in a bowl and taken at random by partygoers, police officials said.

These pharm parties, or pharming, pill or phishing parties, as they’re called, can be deadly. It happened in 2006 when a girl attended a high school party while the host’s parents were out of town. To enter the party, each kid had to donate prescription pills into the bowl.

Everybody was sampling various medications, and a couple of girls became unconscious. Someone panicked and called 911. One girl didn’t survive.

Clark County Coroner’s Office I nvestigator Felicia Borla, who handled the case, said it’s more common than people think, resulting in about four deaths a year.

In another case, a high school boy was having a bad reaction to some pills and went into the bathroom, vomited and passed out on the floor. His friends didn’t call for help. Thinking it was funny, they recorded video of him on their cell phones. He never woke up.

Borla also is a retreat organizer for the Metropolitan Police Department’s Every 15 Minutes program and has had frank discussions with high school kids about these drugs. Every 15 Minutes is a two-day program involving high school juniors and seniors that encourages them to think about personal safety when alcohol is involved, making mature decisions and recognizing that their actions affect others.

“(Teenagers) state that prescription meds are the easiest things to get a hold of,” Borla said. “These juniors and seniors are like pharmacists —- they recognize the pills, the numbers on them, the color. They’re able to list off meds that I’ve never heard of like it’s nothing.

“They don’t view prescriptions really and truly as a drug,” she said. “They’ve told me they’re actually fun to mix, (and that) oxycodone and hydrocodone taste good with alcohol.”

Borla said prescription drug overdoses have increased across the board in recent years, and she expects that to continue.

It doesn’t happen just inside the home, either. Lt. Ken Young of the Clark County School District Police Department said there have been about 180 cases for possession of prescription drugs on campuses this school year. Young said the district averages about 120 cases a year since it began tracking these statistics about five years ago.

Kids may trade or sell pills during school, and police usually don’t find out unless a student has an adverse reaction that requires medical attention, Young said.

Unless that happens, or if students or teachers tip off police, kids usually can skate through the school day high.

Young said marijuana continues to be king at school, with about 400 cases each year. Henderson Police Department spokesman Keith Paul said it’s difficult to track statistics for prescription drug abuse , and the number of incidents is probably not a good indication of its popularity.

“That doesn’t mean they’re not occurring,” Paul said. “It just means they’ve not been found out. It usually only happens when there’s been an unfortunate overdose.”

Detective Tyson Thayer of the Metropolitan Police Department’s n arcotics d ivision said it’s confined mostly to high school students, but he has heard of an increasing number of cases at the middle school level, too. Thayer said students usually deal within their known associates at school as opposed to buying from outside sources, especially adults.

“Some bring whole bottles and some just bring a few extra pills,” he said. “It’s hard to infiltrate because we’re not teenagers,” he said.

Officials agree that parents (and grandparents) can effectively stop the problem from happening if they secure any medications and dispose of unused pills. Parents are the No. 1 source for pills at school. It’s easy not to notice one or two pills missing from those orange bottles that definitely aren’t child-proof.

The Metropolitan Police Department has drop boxes for prescription pills at most of its area commands in the Las Vegas Valley. The Henderson Police Department plans to have such drop boxes available in the next few months. Anyone can drop off unused medications to be destroyed.

The disposal program has been around for about four months, and the department has received about 500 pounds of medication, Thayer added.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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