Buchholz students get drug lessons

Buchholz High School students each received three randomly selected colored candy pieces and then were told by the University of Florida pharmacy class of 2010 what prescription drug each represented, as well as how that drug could interact with drugs or alcohol.

Karen Voyles/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 12:14 a.m.

Buchholz High School students who filed into the auditorium Wednesday morning were each given a plastic bag containing three brightly colored pieces of candy and instructions not to eat the treat.

The University of Florida pharmacy class of 2010 planned to use the candy pieces to make an impression on the Buchholz classes of 2008 through 2011.

"Drugs are unpredictable, including prescription drugs that were intended for someone else or that are not used properly," said Erica Fernandez, the pharmacy class president who organized the school presentations. Referring to both her own class and the high school students, Fernandez said they were all a part of "Generation Rx - a generation that no longer needs to go to street corners for drugs but can go to our parents' or grandparents' medicine cabinets."

Pharmacy students explained to the teens how improperly used prescription drugs share side effects with illegal drugs.

For example, cocaine bought from a dealer and Adderall from a pharmacy can both cause heart attacks, dependency, hallucinations and several other undesirable side effects. The auditorium grew particularly quiet when the pharmacy students explained that drugs like Adderall are considered performance-enhancing drugs when found in drug tests on athletes who do not have a prescription for them.

Then the presentation turned to "pharm parties." Attendees at these pharmaceutical parties are expected to bring whatever pills they can get their hands on, dump them all into a bowl, then take a few out of the bowl and swallow them.

What the pharmacy students wanted to know was whether the teens would feel confident that they would not be swallowing a lethal combination or dose of pills. Could the students absolutely distinguish one pill from another?

That's where the candy came into play. Each candy color was assigned a drug name and the drug's side effects were listed, including some potential interactions for students who drew candies of multiple colors.

Senior Christine Adams, 18, a member of student government at Buchholz, said she found the presentation very informative.

"I kind of knew this stuff went on, but I didn't know how bad it could be," Adams said.

What surprised junior Angela Hutchings, 16, a dance student, was "how common everything was and how many people would raise their hands," when asked if they had heard of a drug or knew about its side effects.

Football player Praise M'mworia, 17, a junior, said what got his attention was how many drugs could be so harmful to the body.

"I can't imagine anyone finding a pharm party enjoyable," M'mworia said.

Wednesday's presentation was the last in a series given by the UF pharmacy students at high schools in the county. Fernandez said her motivation for organizing the series was the drug overdose death of a teenage boy in her hometown of Lakeland in November.

She said what has kept her and the other pharmacy students motivated and willing to stick around for the Buchholz presentation even after they'd taken their last final exam was their belief that at least some of the information was sinking in.

A few weeks after one high school presentation Fernandez said she bumped into a teen who had attended. The girl told her that although she was aware of potential problems with prescription drugs, the presentation convinced her such drugs could be even more harmful that she previously believed.

The presentations were sponsored in part by PALS - Partnership for Adolescent Life Style - a grant and locally supported organization that works with Shands and the Alachua County School Board to deal with teen issues.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or kvoyles@gmail.com.

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