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Pharming, New Teen Drug Craze

Family medicine cabinet now newest source

by Monica Novotny
MSNBC Correspondent

Sept. 19 —  The family medicine cabinet, now being “pharmed” by kids looking for drugs — over the counter, prescription, whatever they can get their hands on. What happens next is frightening.

According to Pat Connors, substance abuse expert, “They’ll combine them all together in a bag or a hat or whatever, pass it around, take a handful, and then sit back to see what happens to them.”

The consequences, for better or worse, are soon obvious. But for doctors, the results of “pharming” are a mystery.

“When a teenager takes unknown pills and is unable to describe the pills, we’re left with a conundrum,” says Dr. Russell Harris, chief of emergency medicine at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. “It could be any host of medications so it’s the fear of the unknown and missing something that’s potentially dangerous.”

And when a prescription mix isn’t available, there’s an even easier option. High doses of over-the-counter drugs, like cough medicine.

“Everyone assumes that the FDA has approved everything and it’s very safe,” says Dr. Harris.

While the abuse of over-the-counter drugs is nothing new, studies now show it’s most common among 12 to 17 year olds. In fact, adolescents are 18 times more likely to die from an over-the-counter overdose than from an illicit drug overdose.

“What’s new is the nonchalance with which these teenagers seem to be approaching it,” says Dr. Harris. “When you’re taking things in a larger amount, the medications in the long term may affect the liver, which we may not see till days or weeks later.”

And the concern, as always, is what may come next.

“With abuse, the addiction potential can happen very rapidly,” says Connors.