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David Emery

Are 'Pharm Parties' for Real?

By March 24, 2009

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Photo by Peter Dazeley / Getty ImagesA "pharm party" (aka "pharma party" or "pharming party") is a teenage get-together in which participants toss all the prescription drugs they can pilfer from their parents' medicine cabinets into a communal bowl and down them "by the fistful" to get high.

News of the phenomenon, which was first mentioned in print back in 2002, exploded into the mainstream on June 12, 2006 when USA Today published an exposť linking pharm parties to "the rising abuse of prescription drugs by teens and young adults." Other media outlets followed suit, lending credence to what really only amounted to a fistful of anecdotal reports.

As recently as last week, reporters were still quoting secondhand sources to give the impression that pharm parties are "catching on" among young people in America. The following example appeared in the Jackson, California Ledger Dispatch on Friday:
"One thing that's becoming really popular is 'pharm parties,'" a student at Argonaut High School told the Ledger Dispatch. "Each kid who comes steals scrips from their parents' medicine cabinets. At the party, they mix all of the different pills in a big bowl and then start randomly swallowing stuff."
A skeptic begs to differ

Slate's editor at large Jack Shafer has been monitoring press coverage of the phenomenon for the past three years and flatly disbelieves that pharm parties exist. "I've failed to locate a single human source or article that documents a single such festivity, let alone proves that they're commonplace, as the media would have you believe," he wrote last month.

In a follow-up article he added: "It's my position — until I see proof running the other direction — that it's an urban myth that young people across the country are playing Russian roulette with stolen pills, a myth that can be traced back to the late 1960s, when the drug-bowl bashes were written up by a credulous press as "'fruit salad parties.'"

Is there anyone out there who can document such activities firsthand, either as an eyewitness or a direct participant? Your testimony is welcome here.


March 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm
(1) sandi says:

they have always been around!!! where has everyone been?

March 24, 2009 at 10:51 pm
(2) Princess says:

I have never been to one personally but a neighbor of ours who is sixteen has talked about going to some.

March 25, 2009 at 3:14 am
(3) Jodi says:

I am a recoverying drug addict and had never heard of a pharm party. It wasn’t until my daughter got caught at one did I relize they have been around for awhile. My husband had to sit me down and explain what it was and that when he was a teen he had been to a few. we’re both in our mid thirties

March 25, 2009 at 9:43 am
(4) JPP says:

There is a good book (Best Seller List, I think)out called “Hold Tight”. The author is Harlen Coben. He writes fiction, but in this novel he’s clearly done some homework on pharm parties! Moreover, he deals with the added demension of street value of prescription narcotics and suggests the people who host the pharm parties can cash in BIG on the drugs or script pads that teens pilfer!

March 25, 2009 at 3:45 pm
(5) Suzie says:

It is very dangerous for one to assume that, based on one person’s opinion (who doesn’t even appear to be an expert on the matter), parties of this nature do not exsist.
Whether or not they are as “commonplace, as the media would have you believe.” This is a very serious matter that should be addressed.

March 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm
(6) Javi says:

I never heard of a pharming party before here in Mesa,Az but as a teen I say it sounds intersting and would attend one.

March 27, 2009 at 12:21 am
(7) Older_than_SOME_dirt says:

WOW – I’ll work my way up..

Javi – if that is what you must ‘say as a teen in Mesa, AZ’, then let me just say – I’m glad you are there. That way, the ambulance / hearse will know where to come get your body once you do go to a pharm party and partake. Get back in typing class and take a health class for God’s sake. Be a boyscout or something noble – or isn’t there anything like that anymore..?

Suzi – I agree. The hard part is actually finding the actual location and date / time of a ‘pharm party’, much less who is going to go and where it will be held. Then there’s the question of who took what and how many of which kinds – drug allergies? drug interactions (baaaaaaaaaad stuff)? If we would learn from history – ‘drug’ parties of the 60′s and 70′s were just as much of a serious issue back then as they are today, and I’m betting that we have more going on right now to curb such behavior as this (pharm parties / teens like Javi) than ever before in any previous time frame. Who can count the endless ‘New Beginnings’, ‘Nice Horizons’ or ‘Warm Fuzzy Land’ type of ‘Licensed Medical Treatment Facilities’ (any similarity to the name of a real organization – please forgive my astounding vocabulary). Unfortunately – to the ‘very serious matter that should be addressed’ comment… REALLY?!? An avid reflection of the obvious. Never would have known…

JPP – been doing your homework obviously. Prescription pads themselves are not that hard (relatively speaking) to obtain. However – usually after a whole pad disappears there is an immediate flurry of activity by the Pad’s Doctor, the pharmacy involved with the illegal prescriptions and law enforcement (at state and federal levels). Admitted – the cash to be made by a function such as this, if it were to be hosted by a main ‘player’, could add up well into the thousands – but how much $ before the neighbors start to notice the 24x7x365 party at his / her house? Would the constant stream of ambulances carting off the unconscious and dead be a sign to the cops? I’d say…. (after much deliberation) – yes. At this level, you have to stop thinking small and start thinking like the big boys – this is where the dirty laundry can get really dirty. Who’s involved? Who’s the Doctor? Who is the Doctor related to (especially in government or law enforcement positions)? Cash from pilfering? Only the little guys – and they probably take their profits in pill form so there’s no paper trail. Forged single prescriptions can be another thing entirely – and then again not, it just depends.

Jodi – you should get out / talk to other grown ups more (seems you already are, good job on busting your kid). The teens are leaving you out of their conversations and out of their lives it seems, the only way safely and accurately keep dibs on your kids is to physically do it yourself. I’ve got an 18 and 14 year old… And yes I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

Princess – stay away from that ’16 year old that says he’s been to pharm partys’. No good could come of the relationship between you two. Might think so at the time, but fate and destiny are funny things.

Sandi – I know – RIGHT?!?!?!!?

My final thought – if anyone made it this far – if there really were more and more ‘pharm parties’ it seems there would be more and more coverage in the local and national (and worldwide) news. Not only that – but there would be a skyrocketing number of teens / young adults / old dudes with the ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome that would be piling up in our hospitals, morgues and cemetaries. If these parties were commonplace – there would be commonplace ‘findings’ of ‘after pharm partys’ – that would include many bodies in various states of awareness and confusion, not to mention the SEVERAL cadavers that would be found.


March 27, 2009 at 8:31 am
(8) Kelly says:

This is probably one of most dangerous things I’ve ever heard about kids doing. They need to be informed of the dangers, or the parents will be burrying their children.

March 27, 2009 at 9:24 am
(9) R J..Miamisburg, Oh says:

I have a good working relationship with my StepGranddaughter, who is a freshman in HS. So this question popped up the other night. She stated very simply, she has had heard some classmates talking about what all goes into one, BUT that no one she knows has ever been to one, outside the talk, her friends know nothing of them..Now drinking parties she talked about for over an hour, who is having these parties, who shows up,where they get the booze etc etc. YET nothing outside talk on any Pharm Party. Most times if she hears about drugs, it is someone taking some of Mom’s Meds or something Dad did’t use up fully. Most of the kids she knows who do drugs,smoke Pot only, nothing harder. Most rather just drink. Being a former Cop, I know most parties I busted over a 30 yr time frame were drinking, with a few with Pot on them or at the party. I never found any bowl of drugs in any of the parties I busted, nor after talking with my Cop buddies, have they. UL for now.

March 27, 2009 at 10:04 am
(10) Charles says:

There are a lot of good observations and thoughtful comments here. One thing to keep in mind, to understand the gap between media reports and the reported observations, is that the primary product of newspapers and news shows is consumer eyeballs. These organizations exist not primarily to give us the news, but to deliver our eyeballs to the advertisers. Providing the news is a cost of doing business, and as such they don’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The more sensational a story is, the better. And what is more sensational than allegations that our kids and grandkids may be stealing their parents and grandparents meds and partying with them? I am skeptical of media reports that take one (or two) anecdotes (true or hearsay) and extrapolate them into a national trend.

March 27, 2009 at 10:07 am
(11) drasticgross says:

Whether they do or don’t exist – the main thing is that parents need to be responsible about their “drugs” and keep their pharmaceuticals locked up somewhere. More importantly, we need to stay in touch, no we need to foster good, close relationsships with our kids, let them know that because we love them, we don’t want them doing drugs. Let them know they have a safe, moral haven in you, not someone who’s going to attack them or abuse them. Help keep them involved in good activities – like sports, Scouting, church etc. Live what you say.

March 27, 2009 at 10:16 am
(12) grammie says:

I remember my high school classmates doing this back in the 70s. Different name, but the same idea. Kids brought whatever they could get their hands on and threw it all in a bowl or glass. In the back of my head, I think they were called cocktail parties.

March 27, 2009 at 10:24 am
(13) Susan Barnes says:

I remember seeing a TV show – maybe an episode of CSI? – in which kids from a prestigious prep school had gotten together to have one of these parties and had a large bowl filled with pills on the coffee table. Someone breaks in and starts shooting, but my point is, I’m sure I saw it before 2002, I think in the 90s. I personally have never been to one, and no one I know has, or will admit to, going to one, so can’t offer any first-hand evidence – if this is an urban legend, could it have spun from a TV show? Just wondering…

March 27, 2009 at 10:32 am
(14) castanea says:

Proving the existence of these sorts of things would be much easier if some parents who have discovered that their prescription medications have been stolen would step forward, and would get around the belief that these parties exist based solely on hearsay.

So are there any parents out there who can verify that they popped open a bottle of their pills one morning to find that their teenage kid had swiped the meds?

March 27, 2009 at 11:53 am
(15) Heartperson says:

What ever happened to the idea of teaching your kids when they are young about drugs and trusting them to do the right thing. I have raised three children (and numerous strays)that have grown into responsible loving, caring adults with good kids of their own. None of them have ever been into drugs and were usually the kids who looked out for the others. I have been called to take kids home that were drunk, etc. I am proud of them (and my strays) and they know it.

March 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm
(16) porkido says:

This is obviously BS…just as with every urban legend, everyone knows someone who knows about them…I’m sure some stupid kids have done it here and there, but the idea that it’s a widespread phenomenon is ridiculous.

April 6, 2009 at 5:33 pm
(17) William says:

Whether pharm parties are real of not, there are many other activities of the young that are just as dangerous.

I refer to spiking drinks of the unsuspected with various drugs, taking pills of unknown origin (doesn’t have to come out of a bowl, it could be popping a single pill that someone you know gives you without knowing exactly what it is), taking too many pills tht are legally prescribed to you, and so forth.

July 16, 2009 at 3:52 am
(18) silver says:

i found out by them in the csi: ny.
and also friends at school.

September 12, 2010 at 11:16 pm
(19) An interested college student says:

I too saw this on CSI, but do they really exist or are they another stupid idea that the media has introduced to our kids., I raised six kids and I am sure they went to their share of parties with alcohol, I have never heard them talking about a “Pharm Party”. I am doing a Research Paper on drugs and the changes that have taken place over the last ten years. Street drugs such as Cocaine, Heroin, etc are losing to the new drug phase of taking mom and dads old pills out of the medicine cabinet, Opiate pain pills like Vicodin, Oxycontin(hillbilly heroin), percocet etc. and then there are Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Lorazepam,
etc. Our youth are finding out hat this new drug trend is cheaper, most times free from family because a youth complains about a headache. I wish one really honest teen would speak up an talk about whether or not “Pharm Parties” really exist. Talk to me at lynndeborah67@yahoo.com, no need to give names just looking for some honesty. No head games please this is for an important Research Paper, Thanx

July 16, 2009 at 3:56 am
(20) moslbm says:

the party isnt all about, “the pharm party”
am sure somewhere at the middle of the party someone will do it. but usually people bring there own.

August 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm
(21) Trent Stavias says:

If they didn’t exist previously, they sure as hell exist now after every media source and tv show has milked the concept for ratings.

October 11, 2009 at 8:49 pm
(22) MKEgal says:

This past Friday someone in my class announced (while the teacher was out of the room, of course) that he was hoping to get out of class early because he was going to one of these parties this weekend. “All the drugs I want” I think was how he put it. If I ever got an invite, I’d go just to confirm the activity, then step out & call police.

April 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm
(23) Medman says:

I have a Christian/Positive rock radio show on Wednesday nights that also embeds family talk to make youth, young adults and parents aware about certain issues and tackle tough challenges that everyone is dealing with today. I bring in experts from that field as well as pastors, social workers and mentors to help guide people in the right direction. Our local “school resource officer” told me that there is a young man in the hospital with ir-reversable brain trauma from such a party. I was first told they were calling them “Skittle Parties” like a rainbow of drugs in a bowl. Seems pretty serious to me. If such a “get together” kill as little as one kid that alone deems it serious! If my show saves on life then Gods calling is working! To assume that kids would never do such a thing is foolish. Teens are inhaling air duster for crying out loud. Anyone know how dangerous that is??

November 10, 2011 at 4:56 am
(24) Sixtyten says:

Ive been a recreational opiate user for several years now even in high school and all of that is bullshit. Those don’t happen at all its all made up up by the media. I head of one of those when I was in high school couple years back. Even my friends from another state haven’t. No i don’t say kids don’t do prescription drugs at a party or even they don’t mix them.

For one thing no ones gonna mix them up in a bowl and give them away for free. Not at all theres a lot of money to be made off selling those. One can charge for 5-9 dollars for a 10mg lortab. As well with the benzos like Xanaz and Kolinpins for 2-4 bucks for those and ADD meds.

No matter what you parents think most kids are not that dumb to take a handful of random pills. Most are ill informed about them and what a lethal dose is. And the fact that most pain killers contain a lot of paracetamol with is very damaging to the liver. Thats how most young people hurt them selfs with prescription drugs. But that could be avoided with educating the dangers of them to them. But no they concentrated more about keeping them off weed and other safer illict substances.

Also Drinking alcohol is more dangerous than most of this. Yet the police to very little to fight that. Ive know several people in high school die from drunk driving. Even one from alcohol poisoning at spring break he was underaged at that.

I wish the DEA and the media would stop spreading utter s**t and unfacts about things most people don’t understand.

February 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm
(25) Frank The Limerick Rake says:

All this hand-wringing reminds me of that “jenkem” drug pandemic that is sweeping through our nations high schools. Soon everybody”s kids will be huffing the gas of their own fermented sh*t!! Oh no!!! God save us! Once The Onion had an article that has mothers inventing a new drug so they have something to be worried about.
This ‘Pharm Party’ bullsh*t has been around for years and pops up every few years with some new bullsh*t slang term- skittling or whatever. I’m not naively saying that kids aren’t doing pills- I know from my own extensive freelance pharmaceutical research that nothing could be further from the truth. But the Pharm Party thing just doesn’t make sense. Kids who are into pills and are going to do them aren’t going to go to a friend’s house (with a bunch of other kids doing pills) and dump them into a bowl for everyone to share. They’re going to eat those pills or sell them.
I’m also not saying that kids aren’t stupid but you’ve got to be a pretty stupidly unique teenager to grab a random handful of pills from a bowl with no idea what you’re taking and no pill experience. Particularly if you’re not a pillhead actually. ANd if you are a pillhead, you’d know what to look for.
Which reminds me of the two versions of ‘pharm parties’ I’ve heard about- The Ignorant Terror Pharm Parry- wherein kids grab prescription bottles at random (heart medicine, anti-depressants, antibiotics, whatever) and throw them all in a bowl. Again- I don’t think even American teenagers of this or any generation is stupid enough to do that. The other kind is The Pill-Smart Terror Pharm Party- wherein kids KNOW what they’re grabbing, throw it in a bowl and they all share. Again- if kids who like pills know what they’re doing they’re not going to throw pills that can get them high into a bowl for a bunch of other people to mix and match or eat randomly. That’s just not how that culture works.

April 9, 2013 at 2:38 am
(26) Fuhl Ofsheet says:

My friends, cousins, neighbor was at one and disappeared. Apparently she took so much ephedrine vibrated so fast and heard her atoms broke apart and she became mist and was gone.

April 26, 2013 at 6:28 pm
(27) Hiawatha Bouldin says:

It never ceases to amaze me how people can so easily dismiss things that they either don’t want to believe or face as a possiblility that it could affect or impact them. I guess they think by not “believing” or getting
involved, it would (1) go away (good luck) or (2) never reach their door.
I’ve got news for you… You’re all deep in it!!

What do you want to do now?

October 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm
(28) Nurse says:

I have cared for patients who have attended PHARM PARTIES… They are real, trust me, you don’t want to see the proof! It isn’t a pretty sight. :-(
Parents need to be educated, as well as the children, on the dangers of prescription drug abuse/misuse. We also need to educate ourselves on the new slang that is being used to refer to the different types of prescription drugs.

January 18, 2014 at 10:43 am
(29) Art Carter says:

yes they are real. My daughter opened up to us and told us she has been to a few at ASU in the last couple of months, and they happen all the time. She told us what she did and stuff going on, so they are real. I had not heard of these until she started college in aug 2013. I didnt think she would go even after telling us of hearing of them, but her roommate talked her into going to a few of them a few months after that. She stated she had at least 3-4 vicoden, and then 3-5 pills that she does not know what they were and blacked out a little, she said she liked the feeling but hated it the next day. She said she does not plan on going to anymore, but if this story is still going, im sure i can get more info as needed.

April 24, 2014 at 1:45 pm
(30) Austin says:

Really? 12 years and not a single reported death? Parents aren’t wondering why they are missing 1000s meds? I mean honestly? As a teen who has not only dabbled but been heavily involved in the underground drug scene, I can honestly say that I not only never heard of anyone having one, but that the very act in itself in entirely illogical. The only people who do drugs blindly (dont know dose/drug type) are either addicts who need substitute (fentanyl or desomorphine for heroin, etc) or people who buy RCs from dealers sold as “real” drugs. (E.g. DOx chems or n-BOMe chems sold on blotter as “acid” or benzofury as an RC xanax.) Nobody is taking dad’s $60(ea) street value 80mg Roxies and tossing them in a bowl next to generic allegra and Aunt suzie’s Centrum. If you really want “news” and “facts” you need reputable cited sources, and in this case if these parties exist on any level whatsoever there needs to be Coroner’s reports, Police reports, and other detailed documented incidents, not just 16 year old Emily who heard of a friend’s friend throwing a prescription drug party that may or may not be remotely similar to a “pharm” party, but will get her 23 seconds on the air.

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