A Dose of Prevention: Protecting Our Children from Medicine Abuse
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month promotes the message that over-the-counter and prescription medicines are to be taken only as labeled or prescribed, and that using such medicines to get high or in large doses can cause serious or life-threatening consequences. The access teenagers often have to prescription medicines in home medicine cabinets and the lack of understanding by teenagers of the potential harms of these powerful medicines make it more critical than ever to raise public awareness about the dangers of medicine abuse.
As parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, and other concerned adults, we spend a lot of time helping teens navigate the challenges that could ground them for life. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges teens face is substance abuse. While we may talk to them about the hazards of alcohol use, drunk driving, and of abusing illegal drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, we often forget about those drugs that are found right in our own medicine cabinets – prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.
Today, prescription (Rx) drugs are the second most abused category of drugs after marijuana, with one in five young adults reporting that they have abused a prescription drug. In addition, according to the 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey, 3 percent of teens have abused over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high over the past year. When abused in extreme excess—sometimes as much as 25 to 50 times the recommended dose—DXM can produce dangerous side effects, especially when combined with alcohol, illicit drugs, or certain prescription drugs.
So why is OTC and Rx drug abuse happening? Surveys show that teens mistakenly believe medication abuse is an acceptable and safer alternative to illicit drug use. The flawed thinking goes, “these drugs are prescribed by doctors and available at local drug stores so how bad can they be?” Easy access also plays a role. After all, Rx and OTC medicines are found right in our own medicine cabinets, at a friend or family member’s home, or at local drug stores.
That’s why it’s vital that caregivers be vigilant of the possible signs of abuse. If you see your child making frequent purchases of OTC cough medicines from the same or different stores, or from the Internet (for example, note the arrival of unexpected packages), or if you find empty bottles or packages of cough medicine in his/her bedroom, red flags should fly. And if you notice that he/she is exhibiting odd behavior, excessive mood swings, has an increase or decrease in sleep, declining grades or a loss of interest in friends and activities, then chances are something is wrong and you should have a parent/child talk.
So while we cannot protect children from everything that can hurt them, we can make a difference when it comes to prescription and over-the-counter medicine. Talk to them about the dangers of medicine abuse; safeguard your medicines; keep track of the medicines in your home and learn how to properly dispose of medications when they are no longer needed. And remember to model good behavior by not sharing your medications and only taking them according to your doctor’s orders or by following the instructions on the label.