Idle Hands

What factors have lead adolescents into a pharm frenzy?

     The problem with pills, as far as school resource officers are concerned, is that one can't be walking by the bathroom and smell what kids are doing inside, like with marijuana — it's harder to detect without another lead. "It's like that old song," Quinn says. "Kids are just smoking in the bathroom and you can smell it. That's the problem with the pills ... you can't be walking by the bathroom and smell that."

     Also alarming is the fact that the MTF survey found 9.6 percent of 12th-graders reported using Vicodin without a prescription in the past year, and 5.3 percent reported using OxyContin — confirming these medications among the most commonly abused prescription drugs, and suggesting that while the other drugs such as marijuana and some amphetamines show waning popularity, the somewhat stable prescription drug use reported in the MTF may be a warning signal.

     The MTF survey results confirm what chemical dependency counselors and law enforcement have been audience to in recent years.

     "What I've seen is an increase in the pharmaceutical drugs Vicodin and OxyContin," says Ken Meuers, a registered addiction specialist (RAS). Meuers is executive director of Prodigal Sons & Daughters, a faith-based, non-profit addiction recovery organization which provides outpatient and peer-supported addiction rehabilitation. "Here on the West Coast, kids can purchase OxyContin on the Internet. So that's kind of hard to keep track of."

Pharm parties

     Experts warn that drug- and tech-savvy kids are becoming their own pharmacists, demonstrated by a relatively new and disturbing social event. A party where kids bring prescription drugs —taken from family or friends' medicine cabinets — mix them together in a bowl and pop a pill cocktail, sometimes washing it down with alcohol, is referred to as a "pharm party," short for pharmaceutical.

     "Kids mix all the drugs together into one bowl and then they just grab a handful, just to see what kind of effect it will have on them," Parkinson says. "It's that feeling of invisibility — that nothing can hurt me and they're all around their friends."

     Parkinson explains that the bad choices adolescents are a result of the juvenile's state of mind. She says their brains are not fully developed until they're in their 20s, so they take great risks, which is why states have laws regulating drugs and alcohol — because officials want kids to get the chance to develop.

     Pharm parties elevate concerns of experts in medical, addiction and law enforcement because kids don't know what kind of high they're going to get or what effects the combinations will produce, making the pharmaceutical experiment especially precarious. Senseless and brazenly careless behavior at pharm parties demonstrates what Parkinson describes about the teenage psyche.

     And the medicine cabinet is as big a threat to teens as the drug dealer on the street, specialists say.

     "Truly, kids today get prescription drugs from anywhere and everywhere around them," Parkinson says. "They go down to the border and get it; somebody will bring it up for them; [or] from the medicine cabinet — and unfortunately, in our medical society today, we are being over-prescribed, and we have [drugs] in our medicine cabinets and they can come in and grab them from anywhere. And sometimes they'll put Tylenol or ibuprofen in its place. That's their way of easily getting high."

'Education is the key'

     Joan Parkinson, director of parent education and action for kids with the notMYkid organization, holds a master's degree in educational as well as clinical counseling. She instructs parents, teachers and kids on the costs of addiction. The nonprofit, Arizona-based group was started by parents whose straight-A son turned out to be a drug addict. The pair believed a child in their community and home could not get addicted to drugs, a belief which initially hindered them from recognizing the problem. Eventually, their son entered a rehabilitation center and became a sober speaker for their newly founded organization, which would use education to combat the "Not my kid" mindset.

     Quinn sees open communication and pervasive teaching as the best remedy as well.

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