5 Totally Bogus Teen Drug Panics

Personal Health

The following is the latest in a new series of articles on AlterNet called Fear in America that launched this March. Read the introduction to the series.

There's nothing like a good teen drug scare to rile up the media and its go-to people in such affairs: cops and drug counselors. The notion that kids are using lip balm to get high (or higher) is just the latest of these periodic panics. Here are five that we've endured in the past decade:

1. Beezin'

Jeez, Louise, getting high off Burt's Bees? You've got to be kidding. But they weren't kidding at Newsnet5 Cleveland last spring when the outlet ran with "Teens Using Lip Balm on Eye Lids to Get Drunk, High, warning that "a new trend among teens may be concerning to parents."

The local news station reported that beezin' consists of applying a light layer of Burt's Bees lip balm to the eyelids, although it wasn't sure exactly why anyone would do that.

"Some who do beezin' said it adds to the experience of being drunk or high," while "others said it helps them to keep alert," Oklahoma station KOKH reported at about the same time. At least, KOKH called in experts to get to the bottom of all this.

"The peppermint oil in the lip balm is a very strong irritant and can cause inflammation in the eye, redness of the eye, swelling," Dr. Brett Cauthen told KOKH.

The beezin' panic died down, but returned with a vengeance just last month. "What's All the Buzz About Beezin'? asked a Toledo, Ohio, TV station in a March report. Similar reports popped up in Nashville and Bangor, Maine.

All of the reports appeared to rely on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube claims rather than actual beezers—quite possibly because there aren't any. There are, however, parody videos about leading tha beez life that gullible media outlets like The Latin Post ran with as evidence of the power of social media in popularizing trends. Here's one:


2. Vodka-Soaked Tampons Up the Butt

In 2011 and 2012, concerned parents were asking themselves "Is my teen soaking tampons in vodka and sticking them up his butt to get drunk?" Parents were concerned after media reports such as "Teens using vodka-soaked tampons, gummy bears for a quick buzz" from Houston and "Teens using vodka tampons to get drunk" from Phoenix, which also covered the associated phenomenon of "butt chugging," or sticking a beer bong up your butt.

Responding to the media hubbub, Huffington Post blogger Danielle Crittenden Frum actually tried it. Guess what? She doesn't recommend it: "It felt like someone had thrown a lit match in there," she wrote. "I began hopping around and breathing in the rapid, short puffs I'd learned in birth classes, so long ago, before I realized I didn't need to breathe like that if I took the epidural."

Okay, but no pain, no gain, right? Well, how about pain, no gain: "If there is any smidgen of effect, it's notional, and probably only psychological," Frum wrote. "Overall, vodka-in-a-tampon seems a very inefficient, not to mention unpleasant, way to get drunk. I suppose the positive is that there is no danger of a second round. And I can't even imagine trying to do this at a party. You'd be walking around all night looking like you'd wet your pants, with a pleading expression on your face that said: Does anyone have a fire hose?"

Due to a lack of drunk-ass teens appearing in hospital emergency rooms suffering acute anal intoxication, this panic quietly fizzled.

3. Jenkem

Gives a whole new meaning to "that's some good shit, man." Yes, people allegedly got high off human excrement, at least according to some stories out of Zambia in the 1990s, which claimed kids were scraping it from the edges of sewage ponds, bagging it for a few days, then huffing the fumes.

Then, in 2007, a hoaxster in the US made a video where he claimed to be huffing the stuff, and it was off to the races. Local media outlets began reporting it: "'Drug' Made From Human Waste Causing Stink on Web, in Law Enforcement," claimed a Florida TV station, "Dirty New Drug Threatens Youth," warned an Iowa station. That latter report acknowledged that while all the side effects were not known, "one for sure is the bad taste it leaves in your mouth for days afterward."

That was good enough for Fox News, which alerted its always already-terrified viewers that 'Drug' Made From Human Waste Causing Stink on Web, in Law Enforcement."

Despite the breathless media reports, no actual jenkem users were ever uncovered. Snopes.com put the whole issue to rest, debunking reports of jenkem use as false in 2011.

4. Strawberry-Flavored Meth

In February, 2007, the Carson County (Nev.) Sheriff's Department reported seizing what is described as strawberry-flavored methamphetamine, quickly named "Strawberry Quick" because a container of Strawberry Quik drink mix was allegedly found at the scene. And it was off to the races.

"Strawberry Quick is popular among new users who snort it because the flavoring can cut down on the taste. Teenagers who have been taught meth is bad may see this flavored version as less harmful," the Nevada Department of Public Safety warned.

By March, the DEA had hopped on the bandwagon, with an agency spokesman telling USA Today in a widely circulated story that the kid-friendly meth could be found in at least nine states.

Local media outlets across the country began running the alarming story. "A dangerous new form of meth is headed to the area and it's aimed at kids. It's called Strawberry Quick, but unlike the popular breakfast drink, this drug can kill," WAVE-TV in Louisville reported. "Strawberry meth looks and tastes a lot like the candy known as 'pop rocks.' It's got a strawberry flavor and scent, and it even pops in your mouth, just like the candy.

In Evansville, Indiana, WFIE-TV reported, "Across the country, law enforcement are tracking a new type of methamphetamine designed for young users, and it's headed for the Tri-State. The taste of this new meth is changing. Police across the country are noticing a new type of meth, made with different colors, and flavors, like strawberry. Police say it's made using products you can find in any grocery store."

Scary, indeed. The only problem was that no one had ever actually run across the elusive substance.

As the Louisville station reported well down in the article, "While no cases have been reported in Kentucky, police say it's not a matter of if it arrives, but when." And the Evansville station gave Gibson County Sheriff Allen Harmon space to describe meth heads using not only strawberry, but also chocolate flavored mix and even melted Lifesavers, which he was happy to do, only adding at the end that the stuff hadn't shown up locally.

Ironically, it was the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PFDA) that put this particular panic to bed. Its reporters contacted the source of the story—the Carson County, Nevada, sheriff's office—only to be told the office could not confirm whether the meth it seized was flavored or just colored.

PDPA also contacted the DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). "There are a lot of people in prevention and law enforcement talking about it, but in terms of actual seizures we haven't seen much," said Tom Riley, a spokesperson for ONDCP. And Rojean White, a spokesperson for the DEA, admitted that while DEA agents had heard tales of flavored meth from local cops, they "haven't had any" strawberry meth busts themselves.

After that, the scare faded—except in the eyes of a pair of octogenarian US senators, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Dianne Feinstein of California. They introduced a federal bill that year to heighten penalties for people selling candy-flavored drugs. That bill didn't go anywhere, but neither have Grassley and Feinstein, and they've reintroduced it again this year, although now their rhetoric has switched from mythical flavored meth to marijuana edibles. 

5. Pharm Parties
In June 2006, USA Today opened its cover story "Prescription drugs find place in teen culture" with a reference to "pharm parties," and for the next three years, Americans faced the intermittent menace of groups of teens dumping all their prescription drugs together and then jointly partaking in an adolescent pharmaceutical pill-popping free-for-all.

This "developing underground culture" around the use of prescription drugs by teens and adults even had its own lingo, USA Today reported. Baggies of random pills were "trail mix" and collecting pills from family medicine cabinets was "pharming."

By the following year, the fear had spread to Maryland, where a small-town paper warned "Among teens, a new kind of pharming." Two years later, pharming-fear popped up in the Upper Midwest, with Minnesota's Winona Post giving parents the heads-up: "Pharm parties: kids know about them," and Michigan's Flint Journal providing a nice Halloween twist with "Pharm parties scarier than haunted house."

It wasn't just there. Small media outlets across the country carried similar stories, invariably relying on reports from local police officers or drug abuse counselors. Besides the obvious logical fallacy in the pharm party stories—why would anyone go to the trouble of pilfering prescription drugs only to mix them randomly with other drugs and maybe end up with no high at all?—there was one glaring problem with the stories. None actually documented a pharm party.

To this day, there is no evidence that such a phenomenon occurred. Pill sharing, yes. Pill swapping, yes. That's what drug users do. But pharm parties—a figment of the media imagination.

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