Teen “pharming” dangerous, alarming

For as long as I can remember, we at Wisconsin Poison Center have cautioned parents to keep their prescription medications out of the reach of small children. Now it also is imperative that we keep medications out of the hands of our teens (and their friends).

That’s because there is a dangerous trend among teens – teens raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets looking for prescription drugs, which many parents are unaware of until it’s too late.

Teens are looking for painkillers, sedatives and stimulants they can sell or trade for other “more desirable medications.” They share, sell or trade the drugs at “pharming” parties. When combined with alcohol or marijuana, this can be a deadly mix. Teens think these medications can’t hurt them because they’re “legal.”

In the past few years, there has been a decrease in the use of illegal drugs such as heroin or marijuana, but a 212 percent increase since 1992 in the use of prescription drugs in teens ages 12-17.

Teens also are using these drugs in unsafe ways. For example, Oxycontin is supposed to be a sustained release product, which slowly enters the bloodstream over time. However, if the pills are crushed, they can give a quicker and more dangerous high. About 75 percent of prescription drug abusers also drink alcohol with these medications, exacerbating the sedative effect.

Teens who abuse prescription drugs are:

  • Twice as likely to use alcohol.
  • Five time more likely to use marijuana.
  • Twelve times more likely to use heroin.
  • Fifteen times more likely to use ecstasy.
  • Twenty-one times more likely to use cocaine.

Wisconsin Poison Center receives phone calls from across the state from emergency departments asking for treatment advice for a teen who has been abusing prescription medications.

What parents should do:

  • Be aware of the medications you have in your household and who has access to them.
  • Dispose of unused or outdated prescription medications by turning them in during your community medicine collection day – for Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine and Washington County residents that will be April 18, 2009, or visit www.mmsd.com for more information.
  • Keep the Wisconsin Poison Center phone number programmed in your cell phone for any kind of poison emergency, toll-free 1-800-222-1222. Our lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days week.

–Mark Kostic, MD, associate director of the Wisconsin Poison Center and  pediatric emergency physician at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

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