Talbot Partnership for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention advises that national studies and published reports indicate that the abuse of prescription and over-the –counter (OTC) drugs to get high is a growing problem, particularly among teens.
The prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens are painkillers, depressants such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants mainly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). OTC drugs include cough and cold remedies. Some teens use prescription and OTC drugs with alcohol or other drugs, which can lead to dangerous drug interactions and other serious medical consequences.
The ingredient the teens are abusing in OTC cough medicines is dextromethorphan, or DXM. When used according to label directions, DXM is a safe and effective ingredient approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is found in well over 100 brand-name and store-brand over-the-counter cough medicines. When used in extreme amounts, however, DXM is abused to experience mind altering effects.
The majority of teens who abuse prescription and OTC drugs are able to get them easily and for free, primarily from friends and relatives, but more often, right in their own home. Many adolescents believe the myth that these drugs provide a “safe” high and are not as risky as street drugs; and often their parents share this belief. Most parents are not aware of their teens abusing these drugs.
Parents however are in a unique position to immediately reduce teen access to prescription drugs because they are found in the home. Once you’ve learned about the issue and made sure your neighbors and friends are aware as well, take stock of all the medications you have in your home. Dispose of out-of-date medicines and secure others. Unless the directions on the packaging say otherwise, do not flush medication down the drain or toilet. Unbelievable as it may seem, teenagers will retrieve discarded prescription drugs from the trash. To help prevent this from happening, mix the medication with an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or kitty litter and discard.
Know what you have and how much, so you will know if anything is missing. Parents’ further need to be discussing the dangers of prescription and OTC drugs without medical supervision, as research shows that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep teens from using drugs. Teens who learn a lot about the dangers of drugs from their parents are half as likely to abuse drugs.
What else can parents do? Monitor your teen’s internet activities. A primary way that teens get the idea to try cough medicine abuse is through the Internet. There are many web sites that actually promote medicine abuse. Teens also are posting videos of themselves online while high on cough medicines. Be sure to monitor what sites your teens are visiting online and whether they are posting videos of themselves. Many Internet safety experts recommend keeping a family computer in a public place in the home to make it easier for you to keep an eye on your children while they are online.
Finally, if you think your teen needs professional help, talk to your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor for suggestions. You can also call TurnAround at 410-819-5900, for a prompt, professionally certified, non-judgmental free drug test and evaluation of your adolescent which is provided by the Talbot County Health Department Adolescent Addictions Service or Talbot Partnership for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention at 410-819-8067.