As children across our area transition back to school - and parents begin their renewed worry about what a new school year will bring - it is a good time for community drug and alcohol prevention coalitions to remind parents about the importance of their role in keeping their children drug- and alcohol-free. Research shows that children, whose parents talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, are half as likely to misuse or abuse these substances.
Each cold and flu season, Pennsylvanians rely on products containing dextromethorphan (D)ß4), a safe and effective cough suppressant , to treat common cold symptoms. DXM is found in more than 100 cough and cold medicines, and can be purchased over the counter. Unfortunately, some people use medicines containing DXM for purposes other than what manufacturers have intended. Across the country some teens have reported taking large amounts of over-the-counter medicines containing DXM to get high.
Data collected in 2014by the National institute on Drug Abuse for its "Monitoring the Future" study estimates the intentional abuse of OTC cough medicine among eighth-graders at 2 percent, 10th graders at 3.7 percent and l2th-graders at 4.1percent. An empty beer can or pack of cigarettes in the trash would immediately grab a parent's attention, but an empty bottle or box of cough medicine may not arouse any suspicion if a parent is unaware of DXM abuse.
Because these medicines can be easily accessed in a teen's home or at the store, it is vital that parents and other community members know and understand the risks. Teens report taking 25 times or more the recommended dose when abusing these medicines, which leads to side effects such as nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, blurred vision and disorientation, and can be life-threatening.
Furthermore, only 59 percent of teens strongly believe that abusing OTC cough medicine to get high is risky which means that nearly half believe it is not. That is why limiting access to medicines containing DXM is a critical step to reducing incidences of abuse among children.
While there is no one solution to preventing medicine abuse, as community coalition leaders we know that implementing restrictions on sales of products containing DXM to those 18 years or older would be an effective way to reduce access to minors while maintaining access for parents and other adults. Sen. Robert Casey has introduced legislation in the past to ensure minors are unable to purchase products with DMX to get high. With legislation supported by groups such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, and by increasing parental awareness, we believe we can be successful in curbing DXM abuse. Youth need to understand that it is never safe to abuse medicine, even those available without a doctor's prescription.
Talk to your children and monitor your medications. Safely dispose of expired or unneeded medications.
There are educational tools available online at www.StopMedicineAbuse.org for both teens and adults. Spread the word. Your efforts will contribute to a safer community.