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Parent Alert: On Campus Skittles Parties

Skittles parties sound like fun, but if you hear young people talking about one, be aware that it is deadly serious and don’t back off from taking action.

The “skittles” referred to in “Skittles party” refers to random medications purchased or more likely pilfered from medicine cabinets, then tossed into a communal bowl, from which the party participants take a few or a handful of pills, with the intention of getting high.

Several teens have overdosed at these parties, which are also known as “pharming parties.” One teen in Knoxville, Tennessee died from a “Skittles party” drug overdose in 2013, just days before he was supposed to head off to college.

Interaction Alert

Even if not taken in excess, certain combinations of medications can be dangerous and even deadly based on their interactions.

These interactions can vary based on changes in the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of the drug within the body. Because of this, drug reactions are largely unpredictable. Particularly dangerous reactions can occur when a person takes two or more drugs that have similar properties because the effects are magnified. A communal bowl of pills from parents’ medicine cabinets makes this risk quite likely.

Compounding this danger is the fact that alcohol is often present at these parties, and alcohol often has harmful interactions with prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs, even with some herbal remedies.

Essentially, teens are gambling with their lives at these skittles parties. Sharon Levy, M.D., director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Boston Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, states. ““There are tremendous risks. Typically, teens do not know what they’re taking — they might find pain medication, sedatives, or barbiturates. These are highly-controlled medicines. Taking sedatives [alone] can risk an overdose. By mixing them, you vastly increase your risk of overdosing. You can stop breathing or have your heart stop.”

Teen Trends and Skittles Parties

A new report on teen substance misuse by Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization dedicated to disease prevention, shows that drug abuse is a growing problem. The report revealed that drug overdose death rates among 12- to 25-year-olds had risen dramatically in most states over the past 15 years. Overdose death rates have more than doubled in 18 states, more than tripled in 12 states, and quadrupled in five states.

Levy points out that teens may mistakenly think these drugs are safer or less addictive than street drugs because they’ve been prescribed by a doctor. “They’ll assume because it’s a pharmaceutical product that it doesn’t have the same risks,” says Levy. “They will assume that they’re safe, and that’s just wrong. These medications have a very high abuse potential. People can become addicted to them.”

Bucking the Trend

It’s essential for parents to be proactive and talk to their children about the dangers of drugs, not just street drugs, but any drugs. Comprehensive education materials are available, often at no cost, such as those offered by Drug-Free World. With these tools, parents can arm themselves to provide the facts and help their children make healthy choices.

To keep prescription drugs away from teens, parents should keep medications in a secure place. It is also recommended to keep track of the number of pills in the bottle, and when done, to discard any remaining pills. The FDA provides medication disposal guidelines, or medicines can be returned to the issuing pharmacy. Even if you think your child would never do it, you don’t know what their friends might do. Be safe, not sorry.

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