Teens Use Cough Medication To Get High

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We’re thankfully in the middle of a national conversation about ways to protect the public from drugs of abuse. The opioid epidemic has brought the issue of medicines and risk to the forefront and has awakened a new understanding about the lethality of drugs of abuse and addiction. There are other medicines, even over-the-counter medicines, that are used recreationally and can be risky, too. This can be especially true with children and teens. Enter cough medicines…

Data shows approximately 1 in 30 teens, or approximately one child in every high school class math class, has abused over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine to get high. Typically teens use DXM — dextromethorphan when looking to get high. I’m partnering with the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign to spread the word among parents. Have you seen this “PARENTS” icon on cough and cold medicine packaging lately? It’s there to raise awareness of medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DXM). Look for the icon when making purchases and think through some safe storage tactics if you purchase medicines with the label or already have products within your home.

  1. Monitor Your Medicine Cabinet: Take steps to protect your teens by safeguarding all the medicines you have in your home that could be abused. Know what you have and how much, so you will know if anything goes missing.
  2. Monitor Your Teen: Be aware of what your teen does online, the websites they visit and the amount of time they are logged on. Ask them. There are many websites and online communities promoting DXM abuse with instructions on how to achieve certain levels of highs. If you see the sites in your browser’s cache it’s worth your while to check in. Teens are less likely to use alcohol or even drugs of abuse if they know risks and that their parents disapprove. Let it be known what you know!

Facts On DXM Abuse In Teens:

  • DXM is an active ingredient found in over 100 cough and cold medicines. Used appropriately, it is a safe medicine that alleviates coughs in children older than 4 years of age.
  • Abuse: Approximately 1 in 30 teens have abused cough medicine to get high, and 1 in 3 teens in grades 9-12 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high. Ask your teen what they know. Without judgment provide information about risks of using cough medicine to get high. Judgment can be stifling; information and guidance is love.
  • Available: Teens may feel it is harder to get their hands on it as teen perception of access has gone down 24 percent. In 2010, 65% of teens agreed that DXM was “very/fairly easy to get.” That number has since gone down to 41% in the last few years.
  • What Does It Do? Taken in excessive doses, DXM has intoxicating, disassociative, and psychoactive properties. This means cough medicines taken in excess can potentially really change the way a teen thinks. The most common side effects include: vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and loss of motor control.
  • How Much? Teens report taking up to 25 times or more of the recommended dose of cough medicine to get high. Side effects from abuse include nausea and vomiting, distortions of color and sound, hallucinations, and loss of motor control.
  • Dangerous when combined: DXM is more dangerous when combined with other substances (other drugs and alcohol). Risks elevate with multiple substances and side effects can even be lethal. Tell teens this so they know the serious risks when mixing medicines/drugs. Make sure every teen knows they can always call Poison Control and get help immediately if they need it — safe and won’t get them into trouble. Ever. Just a team of people who want to help if they are ever worried about an ingestion or an ingestion in someone they know. Put it in your teen’s phone today: 1-800-222-1222.
  • No question that what parents say matters. Teens who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs. True.

1 in 20 teens abuse over the count cough medicine.
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This post was written in partnership with KnowYourOTCs.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs  #KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.
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