What Your Teens Are Really Doing at Weekend Parties

By: Heather R. Hayes, M.Ed., LPC, CAI, CIP

January 31. 2018

Rather than risk getting caught buying alcohol underage or begging an older sibling to score some weed, many teens are simply going to the family medicine cabinet, grabbing an assortment of whatever pills are in there, and heading out the door. Called “pharming” or “Skittles” parties, teens each bring a baggie full of whatever medications they could find and dump them into a big bowl at the party. After mixing this pharmaceutical concoction, everyone scoops a handful of pills and takes them.1

The dangers of this reckless practice are fairly obvious, the worst of which include “stroke, heart attack, or irreversible brain damage.”1 “Pharming” also makes it difficult for emergency room clinicians to help them since even the teen doesn’t know what they took. Figuring it out can waste precious time that may prove fatal or result in uncertain treatment protocols.

Still, prescription drugs remain wildly popular with adolescents. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that medications like OxyContin and Xanax are the second-most commonly abused drugs (after marijuana) among teens and young adults ages 12 to 24.1 Their popularity has far surpassed illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, perhaps due in part to their easy accessibility—the nearest medicine cabinet or friend with a prescription—and affordability. Adolescents say that what they can’t get for free in their own medicine cabinets, they can buy from friends or people in their community for far less than the cost of marijuana or cocaine.1

Along these lines is another form of medication abuse known as “Robo-tripping.” This involves drinking massive amounts of the cough medicine Robitussin or other cough suppressants that contain dextromethorphan, which produces a high. Overdosing on cough medicine is dangerous enough, but teens compound their risk by adding alcohol to the mix. These substances are also easily obtained for free or very cheaply, making them an attractive option for teenagers.1

The time has passed for parents to believe that prescription or over-the-counter medications are safer than illicit drugs. Their dangers are present and real for teenagers, and parents are on the front lines of ensuring that their kids don’t fall prey to any misconceptions about the harm they can cause. Studies confirm that teenagers whose parents explicitly state they strongly disapprove of drug or alcohol use actually use fewer drugs and less alcohol. So, make a point to have the conversation with your child today, and follow health providers’ mantra about in-home medication safety: “If you don’t need it, get rid of it.”1


  1. 1. Solecki, S. & Turchi, R., Contemporary Pediatrics. (2014). Pharming: Pill parties can be deadly for teens.
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