My oldest kid is 14 years old and will be entering high school next year. And as he continues to get older, I know he will grow more independent and further apart from me. So, much to my son’s dismay, I have slowly started bringing up conversations about vaping, sex, drugs, peer pressure and many other random things that come to mind. But one thing that was recently brought to my attention that I had never thought about … Skittle parties.
For me, the thought of Skittles brings back innocent memories of buying an entire bag of candy for less than a couple of dollars. My bag almost always included Skittles. And my adult palette might not agree but I remember the colorful, chewy burst of sugar almost tasting like an actual rainbow in my mouth.
But Skittle parties are not innocent fun; they are dangerous.
These parties, also known as Skittling or pharm parties, are happening in places like people’s homes, backyards, parks, abandoned buildings, hotel rooms and who knows where else. Supposedly, kids raid medicine cabinets at home for prescription medications. They bring whatever they can find to the party and all pills are dumped into a bowl. And all the little pills in the bowl look like a collection of Skittles. Anyone can take whatever pills they want and however many they want in order to get high.
Unfortunately, there is no way of really knowing what pills are being taken. And mixing any of these pharmaceutical pills could cause some pretty serious medical situations. Just go open your medicine cabinet right now and take a look at what you have in there. It is quite common to find bottles of Xanax, Percoset, Vicodin, Adderall, Concerta and Oxycodone just to name a few. And how easy would it be for you to miss a couple of pills?
Doctor-prescribed medication that can be grabbed out of your medicine cabinet is a cheap, relatively risk-free way for teens to get high. It doesn’t cost them anything to rummage through medicine cabinets and they don’t see it as illegal. There is no involvement with any drug dealers and there is little possibility of getting in trouble with the police.
Kids may also believe that because these drugs are prescribed by a doctor they are safer or less addictive than street drugs. And the truth is even some adults think that popping a few prescription pills is much safer than taking street drugs like heroin or meth. But according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more people die from unintentional overdoses of prescription painkillers than from heroin and cocaine.
But some journalists find the idea of kids throwing a party just to take a handful of unknown pills illogical. Jack Schafer, formerly of Slate magazine, says these Skittle parties are “a tall tale.” He wrote several columns for Slate from June of 2006 to March of 2010 arguing that these parties are just a myth that has been perpetuated by the media. And although he has done significant research on this supposed trend, he can’t seem to find actual evidence of them existing. Shafer wrote, “If pharm parties are a trend, they’re the best-hidden and least-talked about one in the country.”
Regardless of whether Skittle parties are a real thing or not, teens abusing pharmaceutical drugs is very real. The National Institute On Drug Abuse reported that young adults aged 18 to 25 have the highest rate of abuse of prescription medication and there has been reported use in kids as young as 12. But this is not news for most of us.
However, this is new territory to me. As the mom of a 14-year-old, I am just starting to navigate the teen years. I thought I would be the cool mom that was up on all the current trends and artists and know all the things I need to talk to my kids about. And boy, was I wrong about that.
Really I am just an overwhelmed mom of four kids that is scrambling to keep up. I grew up during the D.A.R.E. era and the mention of drugs makes me want to scream at my kid to just say no or his brain will fry in a skillet. But clearly, that is not a helpful approach.
So, what can you do as a parent?
First and foremost, talk to your kids. I know it sounds cliche, but it is so important to keep the lines of communication open. This is especially important with teenagers because they are gaining more independence and beginning to venture out on their own. They need to have an adult in their life they can go to when they have questions or need help.
You also need to educate your kids about drugs, both recreational and prescription. It’s important that they know the risk for both. And it’s okay if you don’t feel equipped to have this conversation. You can ask your pediatrician, school or family counselor or other professionals for help. Kids may even take it more seriously coming from someone else.
Don’t be afraid to be an involved parent. Even if your kid thinks you are the most embarrassing person on earth, they will one day appreciate that you are present. Get to know your kids’ circle of friends and their parents. And don’t shy away from monitoring your kids online usage and text conversations.
And last but not least, keep your medications in the most secure and inaccessible place as possible. Make sure to dispose of any expired or unused medication according to FDA guidelines. And no, everything can’t be tossed in the trash or toilet.
I don’t want to believe that Skittle parties are a real thing. But I’d rather know about even the possibility of them so that I can have informed conversations with my kids. I know we all want to think that our kids would never do such things. There is no way to completely prevent your kids from being exposed to drugs. However, the more you know, the more you can protect them.