published Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Teens mix pills, parties


A prescription drug collection is scheduled Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 19 collection sites in the Chattanooga area, according to the DEA website.

• Direct Connection, 5896 Brainerd Road, Chattanooga

• Signal Mountain Police and Fire Station, 1111 Ridgeway Ave., Signal Mountain

• Hamilton County Sheriff's Office West Annex, 6233 Dayton Blvd., Chattanooga

• Walmart, 525 Kimball Crossing Drive, Kimball

• Sequatchie County Justice Center, 351 Fredonia Road, Suite A, Dunlap

• First Vision Bank, 2165 Decherd Blvd., Decherd

• Piggly Wiggly, 17619 Highway 58, Decatur

• Athens Police Department, 815 N. Jackson St., Athens

• Bi-Lo, 841 U.S. 411 N., Etowah

• City Hall, 229 Front St., Spring City

• Walmart, 3034 Rhea County Highway, Dayton

• Coffee County Sheriff's Office, 300 Hillsboro Highway, Manchester

• First Vision Bank, 2134 Hillsboro Blvd., Manchester

For additional locations, visit the DEA's website.

Skittles parties. Pharm parties.

The names sound harmless, but the teen parties often end with participants in hospital emergency rooms.

Teenagers dump pills -- often prescription drugs taken from their parents' medicine cabinets -- into a large bowl and grab a random mix of drugs.

Usually, they have no idea what drugs they are taking or how deadly the mixed medicines can be.

"We really have a problem," said Cindy Jackson, Safe and Sound Program coordinator for Children's Hospital at Erlanger. "There is a misconception among teens the drugs are safe because they see their parents take them and they are prescribed by a doctor. And smaller kids think it is candy."

Three unconscious teenagers requiring extensive treatment recently were admitted to Children's Hospital at Erlanger, said Dr. Darwin Koller, medical director of the emergency department at Children's Hospital at Erlanger.

The teens later said they had taken part in a "Skittles party."

Representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Erlanger held a news briefing at Erlanger on Tuesday to discuss the problem.

The drug parties have been around for several years, but hospitals are seeing an increase in prescription drug abuse, Koller said. Sometimes the mix includes alcohol or illegal drugs.

Children's Hospital saw 200 children who had taken toxic substances in 2011. Of those, 34 were teenagers, with 7 percent of those taking multiple drugs.

"The true incidence was likely higher. We rarely get a real version of what was taken and how it was taken," Koller said.

A Centers for Disease Control report issued last week showed that the poisoning death rate among teens ages 15 to 19 nearly doubled from 1999 to 2009, in part because of an increase in prescription drug overdoses.

More than half the poisoning deaths in 2009 were due to prescription drugs, the report noted.

In Hamilton County, 20 percent of white high school students said they have used prescription drugs without a prescription, according to a 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Black high school students reported a much lower usage rate at 5 percent.

More Hamilton County students said they had used prescription drugs without a prescription than inhalants, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines or steroids.

Some prescription drugs now sell on the streets of Chattanooga for $30 to $45 a pill, according to Brad Byerley, resident agent in charge of the DEA office in Chattanooga.

"It's a growing epidemic throughout the state," Byerley said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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