Police fight ‘pharm’ parties in Oklahoma

BY JANE GLENN CANNON Modified: November 23, 2008 at 12:29 am •  Published: November 23, 2008
NORMAN — Acting on a tip from a Pauls Valley parent, Garvin County deputies last month busted a "pharm” party, a gathering of young people exchanging and taking prescription drugs to get high. This was the second "pharm” party deputies had interrupted in recent weeks, Undersheriff Steve Brooks said. "It’s not just a Garvin County problem. It’s not just a Cleveland County problem or an Oklahoma City or Tulsa problem. It’s a problem everywhere. It crosses socio-economic lines and is not limited by gender or race,” said Mike Snowden, a drug agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Parties where young people share prescription drugs are a growing problem, and they can be deadly, Snowden said. Eighty-one percent of drug-related deaths in Oklahoma each year are attributed to prescription drugs, he said. Many of those reported deaths are of young people. Before the "pharm” party last month, a parent overheard her son talking about plans for the party, refused to let him go out that evening and called authorities, Undersheriff Steve Brooks said. Deputies set up surveillance outside the house until it looked like a party was under way, then interrupted it, Brooks said. Inside the residence, deputies found about 25 teenagers ranging in age from 14 to 17 with an assortment of drugs that included muscle relaxers, tranquilizers and the painkillers morphine and OxyContin, Brooks said. Concerned about the growing incidence of prescription drug abuse, Snowden developed a two-hour seminar a few years ago that he presents to groups of parents, teachers or others who work with youth. Recently, he has expanded his seminar to include talks with doctors and medical personnel. Brooks said a presentation to parents in Pauls Valley last spring led to telephone tips to the sheriff’s department, resulting in the "pharm” party busts. Other calls led to interventions with young people who had become addicted to prescription drugs, he said. "People think it’s safe to take prescription medicine, because it’s medicine prescribed by a doctor,” Snowden said. "There are legitimate uses for these medications, but taking them when there is no medical reason and/or mixing medications can have fatal results.”

Abuse is on the rise

Three graduating seniors died in separate incidents in Oklahoma in May from mixing OxyContin and alcohol while celebrating their graduation, Snowden said. Greg Mashburn, district attorney for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties, said the incidents of teenage drug overdoses from prescription drugs have grown proportionately over the past few years, leading him to call on Snowden to give his presentation to parents’ groups in Moore, Norman and Pauls Valley. One is planned for Purcell in the near future, he said. "The best way to combat the problem is to get the word out, to educate parents, teachers and anyone who works with young people,” Mashburn said.

Lock your cabinet

The best preventive act an adult can take, Snowden said, "is to lock your medicine cabinet.


KEY FACTS

Common drug sources


• Home, relatives’ medicine chests
• Prescriptions
• Internet Source: Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs


AT A GLANCE

Signs of prescription drug abuse


• An unexplained drop in grades
• Skipping school
• Frequent school suspensions or expulsion
• Change in friends

• Increased disrespect or defiance of authority Source: Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs

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