Street Drug Rummy

by Anita Paredes

Anita develops substance abuse and reentry programs for prisoners and ex-offenders. She has a cat named Bruce and cooks to escape the drudgery of daily life.

Instructional Objective Street Drug Rummy is intended to familiarize players with the common names and major classifications of illegal and abused drugs which are all too readily available on the streets today. It supports classroom materials and reinforces the concepts of overdose and synergism as life threatening medical emergencies. Alcohol and nicotine are included as street drugs because of their highly addictive properties and the number of deaths associated with their use. Marijuana, along with alcohol and nicotine, are also presented as gateway drugs to possibly more dangerous experimentation.

Learners/Context The game is designed for children ages 9 to 12, appropriate for grades 4-7. This is basically the pre-drug experimental group who may have already been witness to substance abuse by members of their family, or simply by living in drug and crime infested neighborhoods. As part of a larger framework of substance abuse education for pre-teens, Street Drug Rummy allows students the opportunity to put their classroom learning to a test. The format of the cards is simple to allow for the student to make associations from memory. Prior to playing Street Drug Rummy, the students should have received the following instructional foundations:

* A classification schema of drugs . There are a couple of prevalent classifications of major drugs, the simplest being "uppers, downers, and all arounders" offered by William E. Cohen and Darryl S. Inaba in their book of the same name available through the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. A slightly more sophisticated version would be to classify drugs as stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and those substances which defy clear classification. Marijuana and derivatives, for example, because of their unique chemical properties found nowhere else on earth, can at times be classified as a stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogen. "Designer" drugs, or synthetic analogs, are carving a dangerous niche in the street drug world. PCP fits into this category.

* Effects of street drugs. Both long-term and short-term effects of street drugs need to be addressed for general classifications and specific substances.

* How the drug is administered. Can the substance be snorted, smoked, inhaled, ingested, or injected?

* Overdose and polydrug use. Nearly every substance that can be abused can be life threatening in case of overdose. Students need to be particularly aware of the even more insidious dangers of mixing drugs. The synergistic effect of mixing heroin with alcohol, for example, compounds the effect of each substance. This is one time where one and one can add up to a whole lot more than two!

Rationale Street Drug Rummy is an excellent way to reinforce the knowledge and basic facts the students have learned in their drug prevention education lessons. It allows them to apply some of the facts they have accumulated by grouping cards into general classifications and families. In order to earn the maximum number of points, the players must remember dangerous combinations of drugs. While there are quite a large number of different cards, the rules of the game are simple enough to make learning less tedious. Popular street drug names are used to acquaint the student with more generic terms.

Rules Street Drug Rummy is a game for two to four players. Each player is dealt seven cards. The remainder of the cards are placed face down on the table. The dealer turns over the first card of the remaining cards to begin the game. The player to the left of the dealer begins by either picking up this card and discarding one from his/her hand, or discarding a card and picking up another card from the deck.

The object of the game is to group the cards according to these criteria:

* General Classification. Three or more cards from the same general classification. These combinations are worth 1 point.

* Specific Drug Family. Three or more cards from a specific "family" of drugs. For example, heroin, codeine, and Vicodin are all opium derivatives. These groups are worth 2 points.

* Sudden Death. Any two substances taken together which can result in a deadly combination are combined with a "Sudden Death" card. These combinations are worth 3 points.

* Way Administered. Three or more drugs grouped by how they can be administered, i.e., snorted, injected, ingested. These combinations are worth 3 points.

Rummy is worth 5 points. When there are no more cards to play, or when someone goes out, the person with the most points wins. Subtract 2 points for each unattached Sudden Death card in a player's hand. Subtract 2 points for the person with the most unplayed cards left.

Challenge Players can challenge another player on classifications, families, or sudden death combinations. The drug chart (last page) is used to judge the validity of the challenge.

Card Design There are two basic types of cards, those displaying drugs and Sudden Death cards. Each general classification card is identified by the same caricature. For example, all cards representing stimulant drugs include the cartoon character on the skateboard. The same character is riding on the back of a turtle on all cards with drugs representing depressants.

Deck Design The 54 card deck is comprised of these major categories (or "suits"):

* Depressants (18 cards; 4 families)

* Stimulants (10 cards; 3 families)

* Hallucinogens (7 cards; 2 families)

* Inhalents (9 cards; 2 families)

* Marijuana & Derivatives (3 cards; 1 family)

* PCP (3 of the same card)

PCP, depicted as the "Wild One," because of its unique chemical structure and unclassifiable nature, is a classification and a family by itself.

The classification system used for arbitrating challenges is shown on the last page.

Design Process Having worked for the last year and a half designing drug education and recovery materials for addict adults, I found that these students enjoy learning about the pharmacology of abusive substances. I have since been involved in community education and prevention efforts, learning what schools and private organizations are doing to educate citizens, young and old alike, about the dangers of substance abuse. The rummy format was chosen as easy to learn and the most applicable to an extensive amount of information.

I referred to a couple of resource books to define classifications and identify the most common drugs of abuse. The challenge was to find enough common substances in each classification to make it amenable to rummy. I thought about what I wanted the players to learn from the game and played around with several card designs. Street names were definitely important since many of the children may have already heard them, but may not know the generic names.

I kept the card design as simple as possible. I liked a pamphlet from Do It Now Publications (Drugs of Abuse, 1989) which included cartoon illustrations that I thought would appeal to young players, borrowing the main character as an example of the kind I would use. The players must call upon what they have learned in class in order to earn the most points. It is not simply a game of matching up the cards with little learning in the process; players must think beyond general classification and must justify their groupings if challenged.

Young people often begin experimenting with substances that are easily obtained. Unfortunately for the preteen and adolescent crowd, these are often inhalants. This classification received the same emphasis as more generally recognized illegal drugs. Nicotine was included as a dangerous substance in its own right, and it is hoped that classroom discussion focuses on tobacco as a "gateway" drug.

There is a continuing controversy about the ambiguous messages that the public receives regarding substance abuse. On the one hand, there are illegal drugs which are clearly identified as dangerous. On the other hand, alcohol and tobacco use are extensively promoted as a normal part of life. These substances were included in Street Drug Rummy, as they are in most drug education programs. However, one area was not included: the misuse of over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs. Adolescents, especially girls, are especially vulnerable to misusing over-the-counter diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives. Because the number of products and substances that could be included in these categories would make the card deck cumbersome, I decided not to include them. This, however, is an important issue which should be included in any substance abuse education program.

Drug Classifications and Families

Major Classification Drug Family Drug Name


Sedative- Valium Seconal Quaalude

Hypnotics Librium Nembutal

Opiates Opium Heroin Morphine Codeine Percodan


Opioids Darvon Methadone

Demerol Fentanyl

Alcohol Whiskey Wine

Beer Rum


Cocaine Cocaine Ice Crack

Amphetamine Amphetamine Benzedrine Methamphetamine Dexedrine


Nicotine Cigarettes Snuff

Chewing tobacco


Natural Psilocybin Mescaline



Man-made LSD DMT STP



Marijuana and

Derivatives Marijuana Marijuana Hashish

Hashish oil


Volatile Nitrites Amyl Nitrite Butyl Nitrite

Nitrous Oxide


Volatile Solvents Gasoline Airplane glue

Acetone Benzene

Tuolene Kerosene