The first time I encountered a teen who used the term “farming parties” I thought she was referring to a collection of teenagers, in the middle of nowhere, setting a pile of old wood ablaze and gossiping while consuming a lukewarm keg of cheap beer. I was shocked to learn that what she was ...The first time I encountered a teen who used the term “farming parties” I thought she was referring to a collection of teenagers, in the middle of nowhere, setting a pile of old wood ablaze and gossiping while consuming a lukewarm keg of cheap beer. I was shocked to learn that what she was actually saying was “pharming parties,” a growing and extremely dangerous recreational trend among teens. I encountered this concept when talking about prescription drug abuse with a lovely female student in an eighth grade prevention talk. As our conversation progressed, I was amazed at the chemistry acumen she demonstrated when talking about different pharmaceuticals and the high they provide. Her knowledge of drug names, acceptable dosages and effects when mixed was comparable to that of a seasoned nurse or medical professional. This conversation occurred in the fall of 2006 and the phenomenon she was referring to shows no signs of slowing.
Pharming, as in pharmaceuticals, is the act of teens pillaging their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets for anything that might provide a buzz. Teens that attend pharming parties bring their own bottle of prescription pills as a contribution to the festivities. What they do with the drugs once at the party varies from host to host. Some will simply dump all the pills into a bottle, give a good stir and divide the mixture amongst the guests for prompt consumption with a liquor chaser. Others will toss some vodka or other alcohol into the mix to dissolve the pills before stirring and distributing.
As this process has grown, the parties have been enhanced with rules and value systems creating a pharmaconomy. As a result, a bartering system and a hierarchical currency are developed and rules of fair trade are applied. At the top of the currency, the one hundred dollar bill if you will is the prescription painkiller Oxycontin. Oxy or OC as it is sometimes called is a powerful painkiller that operates with a release mechanism that facilitates a gradual dosage of medication released into the body over a period of time. But when teens crush the pill to snort it or mix it, the release mechanism is invalidated and the full dosage is ingested at one time. This makes Oxy one of the most dangerous and addictive prescription drugs available and an extraordinary asset in the pharmaconomy. Other prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium fetch a high value at these parties as well. Exotic hallucinogens such as ecstasy are also regarded as prime assets. A sample currency conversion is 1 Vicodin = 2 Ritalin in trade. Antidepressants, ADHD drugs and prescription antihistamines also have value in the system, though less than the aforementioned premier drugs.
Over the counter medication also have value, particularly for teens whose access to prime script drugs is limited. Cold and cough medicines are very popular for their ability induce psychosis and hallucinations when taken in excess. The cough suppressants dextromethorphan and coricidin are particularly popular, cheap, easily available and provide a strong drug response.
Pharmaceutical drug abuse has been going on for some time in our society and started with the basic painkillers, benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications) and sleep medications. Many of us remember the anti-drug campaign movies of the 50’s through the 70’s, which now serve as cult amusement for the hippie remnants and current THC aficionados. They depicted abuse of Seconal, the sleep medication du jour of the time, as a dangerous prescription drug that caused pearl clad, innocent young housewives to go insane and froth at the mouth. While the success of those campaigns is questionable and laughable, in the treatment community the message was not wrong. Prescription drug abuse was a significant problem then, and continues to worsen. In recent years the problem has progressed from the now obsolete barbiturate class to the painkiller and benzodiazepine classes of medications. Painkillers have always been the starting point for most heroin addictions in this country. Despite the popularly bigoted misconceptions that unruly kids from poor black families start doing heroin at the age of 6 after being shot up by their addicted, welfare recipient parents, painkillers are typically where the problem starts. Good kids, from good families with good medical care and good prescription drug coverage plans start pirating their parents’ and grandparents’ painkillers, an unnoticeable few at a time for kicks with the neighborhood pals. Once this starts, it doesn’t take long for an addiction to the seemingly safe meds to take root. Once the need for painkillers exceeds supply, heroin becomes the cheaper and more accessible alternative available at a bargain of $5-$15 per bag.
Benzodiazepines or anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, valium and the “big dog” Klonopin are also prime drugs for prescription abuse because of their relaxing effect. However, even many physicians underestimate the addictive, long-term and damaging effects of these medications. As someone who is charged with helping people recover from benzodiazepine addiction, I can attest that it is arguably the most difficult recovery process to survive.
While pharmaceutical drug misuse and abuse has been occurring for decades, it seems that the ingenuity of our current youth has placed the process into a new paradigm comparable to modern social networking, viral and autonomous. The next question most people have is, “Where are these kids getting this stuff?” But many of you already know some of the answers to this question. The first and most viable place to obtain these drugs is the family medicine cabinet. Most families do little to nothing to secure their prescriptions and leave them on counters and end tables free for inspection and pilfering by innocent young bystanders. The web, where a high majority of drug sites provide medications without a prescription, is also a key supplier. Then there is the corner drug store with its endless stock of cold medicines, cough suppressants, sleep aids and antihistamines. While these stores have begun to ID students, restrict the number of such products one can purchase and place high potential abuse products behind pharmacy counters, availability is still strong and kids can always find a way.
At this point, many people start to formulate who is to blame for this problem. The evil dark overlords known as drug companies (or Big Pharma) are always a convenient scapegoat for any medication problem. And they definitely don’t help. As the entity that spends more on political lobbying than Big Tobacco and Big Oil put together, they definitely share their piece of the burden. But in a capitalist society, companies are free to make a product, sell it for a profit, market it to the masses and even pay off politicians to make laws that help their business. But they are clearly not handing out their product on school grounds to your children.
Another consideration in the “blame” segment of this issue is our children’s perspective on medications. Studies have shown that most kids view prescription drugs as safe and relatively innocuous. Considering that most of us take at least one prescription drug regularly and many children are now being medicated with antidepressants and even statins, they learn quickly that the answer to any problem is an FDA approved, physician prescribed pill procured at the local drug store. Kids can’t sit through an episode of American Idol or the local news without one drug or another being peddled to their better interest. And now drugs designed to compensate for the ineffectiveness of your existing prescription regimen are being touted. You see, even the answer to a pill that is ineffective is, of course, another pill.
Perhaps the appropriate question is not who is to blame, but who is responsible for our children? Responsibility lies solely on the shoulders of all parents. While this may not seem fair, it is the only viable answer. If your school is not doing enough to educate kids on the prevention of prescription drug abuse, then parents need to respond and demand that the problem be addressed. It is parents that need to be accountable for their own prescriptions. It is parents that need to keep tabs on their children and how they spend their money. As parents, we cannot ever think that outsourcing our children’s health and welfare is an option. Parenthood is a single point of accountability occupation and the buck stops here. That is not to say that the parent of addicted child is a failure. Sometimes despite our best efforts, our children still have problems. But taking full responsibility for prevention is the charge of any good, concerned and conscientious parent. On that I think we can all agree.
If you are a parent who wants to prevent drug abuse by your child, there are a number of things you can easily do. Random drug testing is always a good place to start. Random drug testing should start before the age that many kids are participating in “pharm parties” and drug experimentation, at the age of 11. Kids that undergo random testing know they will be drug tested at any time and have a built in deterrent: they know they can get caught. Kids that identify getting caught as a chance occurrence are less likely to consider consequences and become more susceptible to peer pressure. When a child is presented with the option of taking any drug, the knowledge of a likely drug screen when they get home that evening will encourage more thought about their choice and the resulting consequences. Many parents feel that drug testing a child is an invasion of privacy. It’s only an invasion of privacy if you feel that childhood drug use should be withheld from a parent. If you are worried about the costs of drug store tests, which can be very expensive, treatment programs often sell medical grade in-home tests for as little as $10.
Keeping your kid’s access to money limited and verifiable is also a good tool. Buy lunch tickets for your kids instead of providing cash if your school offers them. Ask for receipts when your child returns home from a movie. If you do suspect that your child is using any drugs, get professional guidance to help and don’t try to address the issue completely on your own. If you do receive help from a psychologist or psychiatrist, inquire about their experience and any credentials in the area of addiction. Psychiatrists trained specifically in addiction medicine rarely prescribe addictive medications and are better informed on pharmaceutical drug abuse than those who are not. Ultimately a good, reputable addiction treatment program, licensed by the state Department of Health, is a good place to start.
Erin McClelland has over 12 years of experience in the addiction field as a counselor, program director, researcher and process improvement specialist. She started her career researching addiction at the University of Pittsburgh Alcohol and Smoking Research Laboratory under Dr. Michael Sayette. Her research continued at St. Francis Medical Center examining substance abuse wrap around services available to opiate dependent patients at local methadone clinics. Her clinical work includes treating addiction in methadone maintenance programs, outpatient drug-free programs, specialized services for women, children and families and prevention program development and implementation.
In 2002, Mrs. McClelland began a private practice called Arche, in which she developed a community based prevention program designed to reach parents and educators through school and community seminars and home sessions. She also began developing a more comprehensive treatment approach that included diet and exercise as a critical component of addiction recovery. As a certified personal trainer and certified lifestyle and weight management consultant, she believes diet and exercise are paramount to attaining a true, maintainable recovery.
Erin was hired as the Practice Improvement Collaborative Manager at the Institute of Research Education and Training in Addiction (IRETA) in 2003. In her time at IRETA, she was trained by the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative (PRHI) to implement the Toyota Production System in healthcare settings in order to reduce waste and errors and improve performance. This training consisted of the case method training approach of Harvard Business School (HBS) and TPS case studies created by HBS professor Steven Spear, who wrote the first article interpreting TPS for implementation in the U.S.
Erin returned to her private practice in early 2006 to create an outpatient treatment program that treats addiction like a chronic disease as opposed to the acute, episodic treatment model that currently existis in Pennsylvania. Inspired by treatment programs throughout the midwest and western United States, Russia, Israel and Canada and the work of Linus Pauling, Abram Hoffer, Joan Matthews Larson, Chris Prentiss and Yakov Marshak, she began the process to create Arche Wellness.
Erin’s experience and unique education in process improvement strategies have helped to make Arche Wellness a state-of-the art learning organization dedicated to achieving perfect patient care and providing an ongoing, long-term treatment model for addiction treatment.