Teen Medicine Abuse: 4 Prevention Tips for Parents

By Anita Brikman

The teenage years are a challenging time. As parents, we worry about negative influences on our teens and the choices they’ll make. We’re especially watchful for signs of experimentation with alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs. However, there are other substances that should also be on our radar – some of which are available in our own homes.

Most over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines contain an active ingredient known as dextromethorphan (DXM). When taken according to labeling instructions, DXM is a safe and effective way to provide relief for cold symptoms. However, when taken in excess, it can have dissociative and dangerous effects – including hallucinations, vomiting, sweating and memory loss. These risks only increase when DXM is combined with other substances, such as drugs or alcohol.

This misuse is not uncommon. Today, one in three teens knows someone who has abused OTC cough medicine to get “high.” DXM may be an attractive choice for teen users because it can be obtained easily and inexpensively. Teens may also be more willing to abuse cough medicine because they mistakenly believe it is safer than illegal drugs.

While cough medicine abuse is a serious issue, we all have the power to make a difference. You can take preventative action by following these steps:

1. Be aware.

There are more than one hundred over-the-counter products containing DXM currently on the market. To help parents identify the products with DXM, the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign released this short video highlighting the location of the Stop Medicine Abuse icon:

It’s critical to stay vigilant and urge other parents to do the same. Look out for the Stop Medicine Abuse icon on medicines in your home and when purchasing cough medicine moving forward.

2. Monitor.

Now that you know which medicines contain DXM, make sure to monitor your medicine cabinet. 64% of parents report that the medicines in their home can be accessed by anyone. Protect your teen by being aware of how much cough medicine is in your home, safeguarding your medicine cabinets and safely disposing of old or unused medicines.

It’s equally important to monitor your teen’s digital life – including their social media, Internet and cell phone use. Many online communities encourage DXM abuse and even provide instructions for achieving a “high.”

3. Talk to your teen.

Make sure your teen hears the truth about DXM abuse from you. An open conversation can have a big impact – in fact, teens who learn about substance abuse from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use. Ask your teen if they know about DXM abuse, have peers who get “high,” and what they think about it. Educate them on the risks of DXM and other substance abuse. To open the dialogue, consider using these conversation starters

4. Share.

Spread the word about OTC cough medicine abuse. Whether it’s telling another parent about the Stop Medicine Abuse icon or leading an anti-drug coalition, every effort helps. With each parent, educator and community leader aware of DXM abuse, we are that much closer to prevention.

You can get more information at http://www.StopMedicineAbuse.com or join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.

Anita Brikman joined the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) in 2016 and leads the association’s communications and public affairs functions. As a member of the senior management team, she is responsible for establishing and directing the organization’s communications strategies and goals. Anita is passionate about healthcare issues, with over two decades of experience as a news anchor and health reporter in major television markets – making medicine abuse awareness and prevention efforts important to her. She is also the mother of three teenagers. Join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.

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