“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.
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