Discover the new trend that enables teens to access and try out prescription drugs. Find out the commonly abused prescription drugs and ways to monitor teens.
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that after marijuana, prescription medications are the drugs most commonly abused by the adolescent population with the biggest growth of abuse among persons aged 12 to 24 years.5 Alarmingly, the abuse of prescription and OTC medications has surpassed the use of illegal drugs such as crack, cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin. An estimated 14% of high school seniors have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once. – (Source: Contemporary Pediatrics)
Unfortunately it isn’t just drinking that parents have to worry about when their teens go to a party. A newer trend has developed where teenagers raid their parents or grandparents’ medicine cabinets for prescription drugs. They then take the prescription drugs to the party where they combine drugs into one container/bag and take turns reaching into the bag and taking whatever they get. This unauthorized use of pharmaceutical and OTC drugs by young adults and teenagers is the latest trend in drug abuse and it’s extremely dangerous.
Teenagers are calling these gatherings Skittles parties, skittling, pill parties or pharm parties, which is short for pharmaceutical parties. Instead of only worrying about your child getting into illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine or marijuana, parents now have to worry about their child having the option of getting high right in their own house with prescription drugs. This non-medical use of prescription and even OTC cough and cold medicines is often seen as a more socially acceptable way, or even a ‘cleaner’ way of getting high. Prescription drugs don’t have the same negative stigma attached as street drugs, like heroin, cocaine, or even marijuana. If someone is taking prescription meds, teens do not necessarily consider that person a ‘druggie.’ Athletes may even see these prescription drugs as an acceptable way to enhance their performance, on the field or in the classroom and many use opiates for pain related to injuries from sports. Unfortunately, by using prescription drugs, which they may believe is safer, they don’t realize the danger the drugs possess if taken incorrectly or in the wrong combination.
In fact, it’s the random combination of drugs, sometimes combined with alcohol and/or marijuana, which makes a Skittles party the most dangerous. When a teen takes meds at a party from a bag of pills, even they don’t realize what they took. If they run into a medical complication, which happens quite frequently, how can a hospital safely treat them if they don’t know what they have in their system? Which also begs the question, will they reach the hospital in time for their life to be saved? Attending a skittles or pharm party and ingesting random pills is like playing Russian Roulette.
Commonly abused prescription drugs:
Cough medicine containing dextromethorphan – kids call this robo-tripping
Opioid pain pills (Vicodin®, OxyContin®, Tylenol®with codeine) – create sleepiness or euphoria
Stimulants (Adderall®, Ritalin®, Concerta®) – known as study drugs and used to keep kids focused during final exams.
Benzodiazepines (Xanax®, Valium®, Prozac®, Percocet®, Percodan®) – anti anxiety meds that relax a person
Ways to Protect Your Children
We took the key points from the ONDCP prescription drug abuse prevention plan and reformulated it for parents to use as a guide:
Educate: When your child is YOUNG, establish household rules and values/morals. Teach about the dangers of abusing ALL drugs, including legally prescribed drugs, which can lead to death, severe disability or even jail time. Under federal law, taking or possessing a prescription drug without a prescription IS illegal.
Monitor: Keep an inventory of medications and don’t forget to count the pills. Know your teens friends and their parents and communicate often. Know where your teens are and who they are with. Make all drugs inaccessible to kids by keeping them in a locked cabinet. It may seem like overkill, but remember that it only takes one time for someone to accidentally take the wrong combination of pills for them to die. It may be that first time that your teen tries drugs that your worst nightmare comes true.
If you don’t have any leftover meds, that doesn’t mean your teenager cannot get them. Though it’s less common for someone to get prescription pills from a drug dealer or stranger (4.4% compared to 55% from friend or relative) they CAN be bought for less than many illicit drugs. Teens can get prescription medicines for $5 per pill or less, some being only $1-2 per pill. Of course, as with anything, there is supply and demand to consider, and often the cost of pills will increase before finals.
Proper Disposal: Cut off the supply if there are pills remaining once you are done taking medication, contact your doctor’s office to ask about a drop-off location for leftover meds. Do NOT flush or throw out any leftover medications. There are drug take-back programs sponsored in many communities by the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration where unused prescription drugs may be disposed of safely.
Enforcement: If your teen is caught abusing prescription drugs, enforce the punishment, contact his/her doctor for help and find treatment for them. Just because your teen says it’s their first time doesn’t mean that it is. It may just be the first time they were caught. Sometimes drug abuse is hidden successfully for months under the guise of depression, normal teenager ‘angst,’ or overall busyness of life.
Where to turn for help:
It’s important for your teen or young adult to receive help from trained professionals. Contact the staff at Ocean Hills Recovery today for information and support.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.