Pharm Parties: The Real Deal or Just Another Media Story?

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It’s amazing to think how much attention pharm parties have received over the years, and not just because of their wild and risky origins. Pharm parties, also called pharming parties, Skittles parties, and back in the 1960s, fruit salad parties, is a media-invented term used to describe get-togethers where teens and young adults exchange prescription drugs and randomly ingest them. Basically, teens take whatever they can find in their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets. They bring these drugs to the party, dump them in a community bowl and everyone takes a handful of the drugs at once.

Are Pharm Parties Real?

There have been a lot of skeptics that have questioned the validity of these parties, most notably, Jack Shafer, editor at Slate. He argued that none of the articles written about pharm parties had interviewed a party attendee or spoken with a police officer that had broken up a party. While Shafer agreed that these pill-popping parties may be occurring in some communities, they weren’t a trend, they weren’t sweeping the nation in popularity and they weren’t a threat to most of America’s youth.

At The River Source, we can search the Internet just as easy as anyone else and find dozens of media sources talking about the dangers of pharm parties. We can read comments from the general public discussing whether or not these parties exist. We can even analyze the data based on pharm parties and if they’ve contributed to the rise in prescription drug abuse. However, we bring something unique to the table that no one else can: we work directly with drug addicts themselves.

We’re not here to argue with the accurateness and frequency of pharming parties, but we do want others to be aware that the idea of these parties was not created out of nothing. These types of drug-sharing parties have existed for decades, and the term used to describe them doesn’t necessarily give them new life. Instead, these parties have been lingering in society and serving as places for kids to get high together. Pill-popping parties are often quieter and harder to detect since the drugs don’t have the same effects as alcohol, where the crowds are louder, larger and rowdier.

There is no real evidence that tells us how frequent pharm parties are and whether or not they are quietly held in some communities. But, it’s important to note that the nature of pharm parties is very real. These parties have been going on for over 40 years, and they don’t have to follow the portrait that the media paints.

For example, teens don’t necessarily raid the cabinets in search of any type of prescription, and they may not take drugs by the fistful. But kids do share a variety of painkillers and other mood-enhancing drugs, such medications for anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. This is where the real danger comes into play.

The Unarguable Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse

In 2011, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released their new findings. It estimated that 7 million people abused prescription drugs that year, with 5.1 million abusing pain relievers, 2.2 million abusing tranquilizers and the remaining abusing stimulants and sedatives. Nearly 1 in 12 high school students admitted to using Vicodin; 1 in 20 admitted to using OxyContin.

Since 1990, drug overdose rates for prescription drugs have tripled, and over 36,000 people die each year from overdoses. It doesn’t matter if kids are abusing these drugs at pharm parties, drinking parties or a sleepover; the bigger problem is the misconception about the safety of prescription drugs, as well as their increasing availability and acceptance in today’s society. When working with our patients through recovery, many find the peace and solace they need at The River Source because they are removed from their toxic environment where get-togethers like pharm parties are readily available.

Whether you call them pharm parties or not, these get-togethers are very real; although they may not be the large, untamed parties where everyone is sucking down fistfuls of medications as the media leads you to believe. However, prescription drug addiction is a significant problem in the U.S., and as we’ve learned from our own recoveirng addicts, teens and young adults will continue to find creative ways to use drugs in the convenience of others.