Las Vegas Sun

July 7, 2015

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‘Pharm parties,’ designer drugs among trends for high schoolers

District police schedule eye-opening forum for parents

Click to enlarge photo

A package of K2, a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals, is shown in February 2010. Clark County teens are increasingly using chemically treated, smokable leaves, known by names such as "Spice" and "K2," and bath salts that are snorted or smoked as a hallucinogen.

Watch KSNV reporter Marie Mortera’s story about teen drug use and school officers’ efforts to curb it at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. today on Channel 3.

Community forum at Valley High School


WHAT: The Clark County School District Police will host a forum tonight for school officials and parents focusing on emerging drug trends among teens.

WHEN: 7 p.m. tonight

WHERE: Valley High School,

2839 Burnham Ave. in Las Vegas

Students’ tricks to conceal drugs have gotten more cunning as their choice of illicit vices continues to widen — trends that have school police reaching out to parents for help.

Marijuana, typically the drug king on campus, remains popular among high school students, but authorities said they’re confiscating an increased amount of prescription drugs and recently banned synthetic substances, such as "spice" and "bath salts."

“It’s a growing issue,” said Lt. Ken Young, spokesman for Clark County School District Police. “Over the last three years, we really started taking notice of students being in possession or under the influence of prescription drugs.”

Since August, there have been 138 cases in district schools involving prescription medications, landing some students in the juvenile detention center for illegal possession of a controlled substance, Young said. Last year, there were 181 cases total, he said.

“We’re probably going to match that number, if not exceed it,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy approved an emergency order to ban spice (a synthetic version of marijuana) and bath salts (which mimic methamphetamines). The two substances have been creeping onto school campuses, CCSD Police Officer Steve Ufford said.

Ufford has created a class to educate school officials and parents about emerging drug trends among teens, which he will present during a community forum tonight at Valley High School. The forum is the second in a series addressing teen issues, with future topics to include gangs and bullying.

“A lot of these (drugs) are new to us as police officers, so you can imagine for school district employees, staff as well as parents, it’s going to be brand new to them and something very unfamiliar,” he said.

School police said the new drugs were turning up at high schools across the district, underscoring the fact that drugs don’t obey jurisdiction borders. In fact, it’s impossible to pinpoint student groups dabbling in these drugs because many defy traditional stereotypes, Young said.

“These are your kids that are your 4.0s,” he said. “These are your scholars — kids who are doing well and excelling academically. You see them using drugs.”

Many users wind up exposing themselves to authorities when symptoms catch them off guard, Young said.

“It’s usually the first- and second-timers we’re finding in school because they don’t recognize what it does to their body,” he said. “They normally report to a nurse or an administrator, ‘I don’t feel too good. I’ve taken something I shouldn’t have.’”

In several cases, students experiencing adverse reactions to the drugs were transported to a hospital, Ufford said.

Outside of school, the growing popularity of “pharm parties” — where teens bring a random assortment of prescription pills, throw them in a bowl and take their pick — worries police, as well.

“The kids really have no idea what they’re taking,” Ufford said. “That’s what makes it so very dangerous.”

Prescription-drug abuse typically starts by students swiping pills from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets, Ufford said. It’s one pill here or there at first, not enough to raise any eyebrows.

When officers nab students for possession in school, authorities said they often own up to how they’re getting the drugs and if they are selling them, Ufford said.

“You’d be surprised with how candid they are with us, saying, ‘Hey, I’m selling it for $5, $10 a pill,” he said. “Of course, we look it up and it’s heart medication or something like that.”

One enforcement issue vexing police is students’ innovative techniques to hide their drug stashes: eyeglass holders or altered soda containers, for instance.

“It’s a normal occurrence to have these types of things,” Young said.

The drug trends at Clark County high schools are not unique, police said. Recent surveys of departments in California and Texas showed police are dealing with similar trends in those areas, Young said.

“We’re doing our best to stay ahead of the trends,” Ufford said.

School police encourage parents to attend the community forum, which begins at 7 p.m. at Valley High School, 2839 Burnham Ave. in Las Vegas. Authorities said it’s an opportunity for adults to learn potential dangers and gain necessary information to spot drug abuse among their children.

Teens recovering from drug abuse will attend to share their stories, and officers will give impaired-vision demonstrations, police said.

“We have to get out to the parents that we need them on the front line,” Young said.

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  1. LVSun, are you serious? "Pharm parties" are not happening! If teenagers want to use prescription drugs for the purpose of getting high they aren't going to want to pick some random pill out of a bowl that could be blood pressure medication or an antibiotic.

    On second thought, maybe pharm parties are all the rage. I bet before the kids drop their pills into the punch bowl the girls run to the bathroom and insert vodka soaked tampons. And after everyone is good and high from taking Lipitor the girls each apply a different shade of lipstick in anticipation of the "rainbow party" they are about to have. What fun!

  2. Trying to be "cool" or "fit in" has always been a problem for young adults. I know, I was one once, but back then it was cigarettes, not so-called "recreational" drugs. Today's kids face a far more dangerous atmosphere then I did when it comes to how to cope with "growing" up. "Coffin nails" were bad enough, but nothing compared to what "recreational" drugs can do to ones mind & body. My life experiences have taught me that it is easier to never start a bad habit then it is to stop it. Trust me, nothing good can come from using "recreational" drugs.

  3. Our kids enjoy the library and other non-traditional activities for teens. We blocked tv channels like MTV from our satellite TV boxes and prohibited them from getting a cell phone until they were in high school. We are very active parents and involved in our kid's lives. On the other hand, we watched other parents let their kids run around crazy and undisciplined...we never allowed our kids to act like that. We are old school and made sure they understood concepts like respect and responsibility. As a result, they've stayed away from drugs and people who deal them.

    Parents need to do a better job of raising their kids. I fully blame the parents and partial blame goes to the lackadaisical rules that public schools have on drugs. I realize that private school doesn't guarantee anything, but at least they have drug testing programs.

  4. Pharm parties are fiction. It is the myth that refuses to die.

  5. "Marijuana, typically the drug king on campus".

    Wrong, Alcohol is the 'drug king' on campus. Many conveniently forget that alcohol is a mind altering drug; it just happens to be legal and heavily advertised at every sporting event a teenager watches or attends. The easiest to obtain and society doesn't consider it a 'drug' so drink up, right. (sarcasm)

  6. Read an article here Study: Alcohol 'most harmful drug,' followed by crack and heroin

  7. @ Launce (Launce Rake):
    THANK YOU! I read this headline and every time I see anything that describes teenage activities I always question the source. I can't totally fault the Las Vegas Sun and the author here, because their information did come from a peace officer, and as such you would think that in such matters they would be accurate with their information. The one specific point where I would fault them would be for only relying upon a single source for the information rather than verifying it with another. Then again there is the source to consider. At this rate we'll be warned not to flash our headlights at gang members who'll shoot us on their way to collect Jenkem.

    Absolutely things such as bath salts and these "synthetic" herbs are a huge concern. Even with hard narcotics we know the effects to identify types of poisoning, but when some random dude in China adds God only knows what types of chemicals to these things, who knows how to treat a victim.

    As such drugs are a very serious threat to our schools. But recklessly informing news sources to make yourself either sound smart or to be in a position of power is pretty scary. When real threats emerge, how will we know what to take seriously (let's hope krokodil never makes it over here)? Hey, how can we even be sure that CCSD is even doing a good job if their employees can't even bother to make sure that they're informed!

    I don't blame the author or the paper here, but between child porn scandals, teachers having inappropriate relationships with students, and School Police now not even knowing how to tell a hoax from a fact because they can't be bothered to Google something, how can anyone trust CCSD with properly protecting, let alone education our students if they can't even educate their own employees?

  8. @lvfacts101 (Jerry Fink)

    For some kids it's not even about trying to fit in or be cool any more. People don't realize it but lots of students are under tremendous amounts of pressure for academics. When I was in high school back in the mid 90's we had college pounded into our heads that we'd never make it in the world if we didn't attend, and that in order to even get there we had to have perfect SAT scores and GPAs. And none of this was in an encouraging way. We were told that if we screwed up our test scores now we'd be paying for our mistakes for the rest of our lives. We even had assignments in our classrooms to fill out Loan Applications for Financial Aid. School isn't always a fun place to be, and with teenagers who are taught to be obedient constantly, it's very difficult for them because it's impossible for them to question things. Adults leave work and then that's that until the next day. Most don't bring work, let alone their problems home with them. But students are forced to take school and the pressure from it home with them and live it 24/7. And when they are at school they've' got to get away from drug pushers, physical violence, and other social hierarchies. People are upset about the TSA and the body searches and putdowns. But no one complains when their kids go through that stuff at school. If your job was that bad you'd simply look for another place to work. But students can't. Even the best straight-A student can't get away. You can't just transfer or even take a day off. And if they do, the send Campus Police after you to arrest you like a common criminal. It is like jail. For an honest kid it is insanity. For a little thug it just institutionalizes them from an early age to become accustomed to the penal system. Except for worse violence (and depending upon the school that is debatable), what is the difference between high school and jail for most students? And when you think about that it also explains why so many kids have problems. If school is so much like jail, then what is the threat of being locked up? If they don't fear jail, they don't fear society and have no incentive NOT to break the rules.

    I'm not saying that substance abuse is right, but I can totally understand why kids turn to it as an escape from their everyday lives when these are the things they have to put up with.

    @ LynnJohnson (Lynn Johnson)

    Society at large doesn't identify Alcohol as being a drug, but law enforcement actually does. Drugs are classified using SHOMADIP to fit into one of the following categories: Stimulants Hallucinogens Opiates Marijuana Alcohol Depressants Inhallants PCP.

  9. I have no doubt that school officials and police are finding students in possession of prescription drugs, which I'm sure is an unintended consequence of crack downs on alcohol and marijuana. I share Launce's skepticism about the prospects of "pharm parties." Any kid who manages to come across some pain killers isn't going to drop his stash into a communal bowl and hope that when it's his turn, he doesn't end up with a Flintstones chewable.

  10. Without a doubt, kids steal drugs. Kids trade drugs. Kids take drugs. But steal and take drugs at random from a bowl? Hogwash. More media hocum. Like ritual satanic abuse, day care sex offenders, rainbow parties, pre-teen mall hookers, media outlets declare these urban legends as facts.

    This story, like every "pharm-party" story provides no proof of these parties. Just the fear-mongering of police trying to justify rising budgets in the face of dropping crime rates.

    There are at least two basic problems with the pharm-party scenario reported in the press. To begin with, if you were a young drug fiend and stole potent drugs, why would you deposit them in a communal bowl if there was a good chance that when your turn came to draw a drug at random, you might get an antihistamine?

    And second, there has yet to be a report published in which a journalist actually attends such a gathering, interviews a participant, or cites a police report alleging such behavior.

    Montana Miller, a professor in Bowling Green State University's department of popular culture, has been tracking the pharm-party meme for the last three years and has yet to confirm even one such party.

    One sure marker of the existence of pharm parties, she says, would be mentions of them on Facebook.

    "If this were really a popular trend, there would be numerous groups with many hundreds of members," says Miller. "This is not the case."