“Pharm parties” –tragedy and business opportunity

“Pharm parties” –tragedy and business opportunity

The “War on Drugs” has focused on illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana smuggled in from abroad. The US government has spent billions on a mainly fruitless effort to eradicate drugs where they are grown and to interdict shipments. Some libertarian opponents of the Drug War have proposed legalizing or decriminalizing such drugs in order to reduce the need for the criminal activities associated with the trade.

But both these groups are out of touch with current trends. Teens and young adults raised in an era of direct to consumer advertising and widespread prescription of medication for ADHD and other adolescent disorders has internalized the message that prescription drugs are safe, effective, and necessary. They associate street drugs with low-lifes.

I’ve written about the related amateur pharmacist phenomenon in the past and have warned about the overuse of meds. Still, I was quite taken by the USA Today article on “Pharm parties.”

When a teenager in Jan Sigerson’s office mentioned a “pharm party” in February, Sigerson thought the youth was talking about a keg party out on a farm.

“Pharm,” it turned out, was short for pharmaceuticals, such as the powerful painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin. Sigerson, program director for Journeys, a teen drug treatment program in Omaha, soon learned that area youths were organizing parties to down fistfuls of prescription drugs…

It’s a culture with its own lingo: Bowls and baggies of random pills often are called “trail mix,” and on Internet chat sites, collecting pills from the family medicine chest is called “pharming.”

…Vicodin has been particularly popular in recent years; a study by the University of Michigan in 2005 found that nearly 10% of 12th-graders had used it in the previous year. About 5.5% said they had used OxyContin. Both drugs are now more popular among high school seniors than Ecstasy and cocaine…

[An analyst] says prescription drugs are familiar mood-altering substances for a generation that grew up as prescriptions soared for Ritalin and other stimulants to treat maladies such as attention-deficit disorder. “Five million kids take prescription drugs every day for behavior disorders,” she says.

“It’s not unusual for kids to share pills with their friends. There have been incidents where kids bring a Ziploc baggie full of pills to school and share them with other kids.”

Pharm parties, she says, are “simply everyone pooling whatever pills they have together and having a good time on a Saturday night. Kids … don’t think about the consequences.”

I don’t have a magic answer for this problem, but I do think that helping to solve it presents some business opportunities. In particular, pharmaceutical companies will want to take steps to ensure that their products aren’t abused. Otherwise they will find physicians increasingly reluctant to prescribe certain medications and there may even be pressure for withdrawal and reformulation as has happened with OTC products containing pseudophedrine.

So I’d suggest that pharmaceutical and packaging companies work on solutions to prevent “pharming.” For example, a company could bring to market a bottle that scans a patient’s fingerprint or requires a combination to open. Or a method could be introduced to track individual pills. Innovations in this area are likely to find a ready market in the next few years.

June 14, 2006

6 thoughts on ““Pharm parties” –tragedy and business opportunity”

  1. Hmmm, ADHD meds with a combination lock.

    So once I remember to take my meds, and remember where I put my meds, I can enjoy trying to remember the combination to my meds while simultaneously attempting to follow the directions to input the combination. So basically, I would be unable to take my meds without already having my meds in my system.

    Or we could just accept that if kids are dumb enough to abuse these drugs and OD, we shouldn’t try to fight natural selection. I see no reason to make it harder for people to take necessary medication simply because dumbass college kids can’t just stick with beer and bonghits. Sheesh.

  2. Increasing the level of communication (electronically) between pharmacies and prescribing providers would go a long way to reducing abuse of prescription drugs. There are plenty of patients (not just Rush Limbaugh) who are busy “doctor shopping” to get prescriptions for narcotics, benzo’s etc…Making sure that primary care physicians are aware of all the meds any individual patient is good medicine in general anyway.

  3. Each day I receive at least 10 spam letters,more than a half of them advertising different sorts of meds,pills. There is no need to mention about widly spread Internet. If there is a law prohibiting such kind of mail delivery, it will change the situation for the better

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