From The New Zealand Herald
Once it was cocaine, speed or heroin, but now the fashion is for legal pills, washed down by spirits.
The death of actor Heath Ledger from an accidental overdose of prescription tablets shed light on a startling trend - misuse of over-the-counter pills now kills more Americans than illegal drugs.
It is the fastest-growing type of drug abuse in the US. Even more worryingly, prescription drugs have made it on to the party scene as a legal, seemingly safe, way to recreate an illicit high.
Until last month this was a largely silent epidemic. But the death of Heath Ledger, a regular at Marquee and other nightclubs, thrust it into the spotlight. The 28-year-old actor died from "acute intoxication" caused by an accidental overdose of anti-anxiety medication and prescription painkillers.
The most commonly abused prescription medications fall into three categories: opiate-based painkillers; central nervous system depressants prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders; and stimulants, used to treat attention deficit disorders.
"The problem has been greatly worsened by the internet, and that affects all countries," says Susan Foster, of the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, New York.
"As long as you have a credit card, anyone can log on and have potentially lethal drugs delivered to their door. You don't even need a prescription. You have what's called an 'online consultation' where you are asked how old you are, how bad your pain is."
One of the most popular forms of recreation among high-school students is the "pharm party".
Teenagers raid their parents' medicine cabinets, then pool their resources.
"You throw your drugs into a bowl in the middle of the room, then people pick pills out and chase them with alcohol," says Susan Foster.
"We've seen these internet recipe sites where you go online to find out how to mix drugs for a certain effect. You can trade drugs online - in fact, at one college the students reported that they had a prescription drug trade forum on the university website."
Click here for a comprehensive list of drug testing performed at NMS Labs.