• Cough Medicine Abuse: A Checklist for Parents

    Teen abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines is a widespread and serious issue. But as a parent, you may not have any idea how you can help prevent it. Here’s a list of hands-on advice for what you should do, starting right now.

    Know which drugs are being abused. If you are not aware of cough and cold medicine abuse, it’s time to get informed. The biggest problem is with medicines that contain dextromethorphan (often abbreviated as DXM), which is found in more than 125 over-the-counter medicines sold to treat the symptoms of cough and colds.

    Learn the slang. Find out what teens are calling these drugs. DXM goes by many names – tussin, skittles, robo, CCC, triple C, dex syrup, and red devils to name a few. If you didn’t know the terminology, you could be missing it when your kids are talking about cough medicine abuse in code.

    Look in your medicine cabinet. No parent wants to be a drug supplier for his or her children. Treat your medicine cabinet like your liquor cabinet: track what is in it and how much is used. Just like you did when your child was a baby, it is always advisable to store medications in a place where your kids won’t be able to get them.

    Get rid of medicines you don’t use. Don’t keep them around just in case – many are probably expired anyway. If you’re sick and need a cough or combination cold medicine, get only what you need and safely dispose of what’s left when you’re feeling better.

    Talk to other parents. Share what you know about cough medicine abuse with other parents, particularly the parents of your teen’s friends. Coordinate your efforts. If you’re cleaning out your medicine cabinet, get the parents of your teen’s friends to do the same. By making it a community effort, you’ll help keep everyone safer.

    Model good behavior. You may be careless with how you use medication yourself. If your headache is really bad, you may double the recommended dose. If your back goes out, you might borrow a few narcotic painkillers from a friend who had them left over after dental surgery. All medications are serious and have risks when not taken appropriately. What’s more, your kids are watching. If you don’t treat these medicines with respect – and only use them as recommended – why should you assume your teens will?

    Monitor your child’s use of the Internet. Know what your child is looking at on the Internet. There are websites out there that present, in astonishing detail, information about cough medicine abuse with tips on specific dosages and brands.

    Think about your community. Even if your children are too young for drug abuse, what about your nieces and nephews? Or babysitters? By clearing your house of unnecessary medication, you’re helping them too.

    Talk to your teen. When parents talk to their children about the risks of drugs, it reduces the risk that they will use drugs by 50%. So don’t beat around the bush. Talk to your kids directly about the risks of drug abuse, and mention cough medicine abuse specifically. Just because medicines come from a drugstore or a pharmacist doesn’t mean that they cannot be misused.


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