Have You Talked to Your Kids About Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drug Abuse?

From Grade School On…

My son is seven years old. He watches cartoons and plays for hours with Bakugan. He is still scared of the dark.

But I have talked to him — often — about using drugs.

As a former youth worker, I have seen far too many wonderful young people trade in their lives to get high. I have visited some of them in prison and attended some of their funerals.

I have even stroked the forehead, as I pleaded with God, of a nineteen year old girl in a coma who overdosed on prescription and over the counter medications.

So I am desperate to ensure my children don’t make the same mistakes those kids did. I am desperate to help my children make it through their teenage years unscathed by drug abuse.

And that is why I have already started an ongoing dialogue with my son about drug abuse, peer pressure and decision making.

After all my years with young people, I can tell you one thing for sure: good parenting pays off!

Good parenting won’t guarantee kids will make the right decisions. Teenagers want to exert their independence and they will make mistakes. But bad parenting, including a lack of open communication, can almost guarantee kids will end up in trouble. Kids need healthy adult role models with whom they can safely talk and ask questions.

Heading to Capitol Hill…

Today, I am traveling to Washington D.C. with the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) on behalf of the leading makers of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines and the award-winning Five Moms campaign to help promote awareness of cough medicine abuse.

I will be attending several planned events in D.C., and attending meetings with staff members on Capitol Hill to discuss medicine abuse among teens and the many ongoing efforts to educate parents about the issue.

These plans coincide with an initiative by Senator Charles E. Grassley to designate the month of October National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month through a U.S. Senate resolution, and CHPA wants to make sure that as many parents as possible know about this initiative.

The Growing Trend…

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America:

  • One in five teens reports having abused a prescription drug to get high
  • One in ten teens reports having abused OTC cough medicines to get high and 28 percent know someone who has tried it

If you are wondering how kids are getting high on cough medicine, the active ingredient the teens are abusing in OTC cough medicines is dextromethorphan, or DXM.

DXM is an 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. But when abused in extreme amounts, DXM can be dangerous.


“Teens who learn a lot about the dangers of drugs from their parents are half as likely to abuse drugs.” www.stopmedicineabuse.org

In a 2006 CADCA survey, 75 percent responded that parents do not talk to their children and teens about the dangers of abusing OTC cough meds.

importance-talking-with-kidsFortunately, there are some excellent resources about OTC drug abuse available for parents and teens.

The CHPA has built two fantastic websites where parents can go for information about OTC drug abuse, StopMedicineAbuse.org, and Five Moms.com.

StopMedicineAbuse.org is packed with information. It is designed to build awareness about OTC substance abuse behavior, provide tips to prevent it from happening, and encourage parents to safeguard their medicine cabinets.

Two years ago, I was honored to interview Hilda from Five Moms and Mimi from CHPA about how the Five Moms is taking action to help make moms aware of cough medicine abuse.

Five Moms.com is an online educational campaign to drive parents to:

  • educate themselves on medicine abuse,
  • talk with their children about the risks of such abuse, and
  • spread the word to other parents.

Both you and your children can also find a wealth of information at Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

I especially love Time to Talk. They even have a Talk Kit for parents to help prepare yourself for productive and effective conversations with your kids.

When it comes to DXM, the active ingredient in OTC cough medicines, DXM Stories talks directly to kids about the dangers of abusing DXM.

Your Turn…

Recently I wrote about my favorite new show, Glee. On a number of episodes, Glee has referenced OTC drug abuse. Episode 6 even featured OTC drug abuse in the main story line.

While it can be disheartening that the problem has become so common that it is making its way into mainstream television shows, it is a good opportunity to highlight the issue with parents and even spark conversations between kids and parents.

What did you think when Glee referenced OTC drug abuse? Did it encourage to discuss drug abuse with your children?

Has your family been touched by drug abuse? What resources have you found helpful?

What are your tips for parents discussing drug abuse with their children?

Note: The CHPA covered my travel and hotel expenses to travel to Washington but did not pay me to cover this story. I am writing because I believe in educating parents about OTC drug abuse. My opinions and posts are completely my own.


  1. says

    I do talk to all my kids that any kind of medicine is not candy, even the soar throat candy or Flinstones vitamins or anything that might look tempting to them. I love that they make medicine enticing for kids to take when they are sick with the different flavors and colors, but that can also be part of the problem. To them its sweet and fun looking and do not consider it harmful.

  2. says

    Great post! I was glad to see someone else looking at that episode of Glee. I do love the show & admit that the episode in general was funny, I did find it hard to watch something as serious as a clueless adult doling out OTC to teenagers. Anyone whose seen the damage that can be done by TC drug abuse by teens probably didn’t find the episode as funny.

    I think that by throwing it into the show without any real show of the possible consequences, was a little irresponsible on the part of the show.

    My kids are 4 & 6 so they aren’t up that late, and Glee is just a little but much for what I allow them to watch. I have not really talked too much to my son yet about drugs (the 6yo) but know that the time is coming… Thanks for reminding us how important a topic it is. :-)

  3. says

    Be aware of what kind of drugs are in your house and who might have access to them (babysitters, kids’ friends etc!). It is a big deal.

    I talk to my daughter about that kind of thing a lot (drugs, cigarettes, alcohol), but I realize that I do need to specifically mention the dangers of OTC drugs.

    I don’t watch Glee, but I think it’s great when shows feature these types of topics that do open up discussions in homes.

  4. says

    “75 percent responded that parents do not talk to their children and teens about the dangers of abusing OTC cough meds. ”

    HELLO! That is a huge part of parenting…communication and teaching. That quote just tells me that 75% of parents shouldn’t be parents. I talk to my daughter about EVERYTHING. If I don’t who will…let’s see, misguided teenagers, drug dealers, perverts…hmmm…I think I can do a better job than that which is why I talk about everything to the point of embarrassment if necessary. I’m her mother. It is my job and my responsibility. :o) Great post! ♥

  5. says

    I am a family therapist who worked mostly with drug-abusing teens and their families (before I became a SAHM). I often worked with kids who were abusing OTC’s. I always told the teens I worked with that they are now known as the ‘Rx generation’ because so many of them are abusing prescription meds (and OTC’s, which so many think are harmless since they are OTC).

    Glad there are other moms and youth workers like you who are getting the message out, to our own kids, other parents, and most importantly, those who make the laws regarding meds.

  6. says

    I didn’t catch the Glee episode, so I can’t really comment on that. But, we DO talk a lot about drugs in our house. Our kids are 7 and 4.5.

    We haven’t yet talked specifically about using an OTC to get high, we just normally talk about the dangers of ALL drugs, how their side effects/consequences are taken for granted, and how they’re completely overused an abused on a much larger scale than just to get high.

    Guess I need to specifically address the recreational uses of OTC drugs now, too. Even though we don’t have a single drug in our house and neither kid has ever taken any kind of drug, unfortunately I realize that this isn’t enough anymore.

    It’s hard to teach them a message that “drugs are bad” when all those drug commercials are filled with people that look SO much happier once they take their drugs!! argh.

  7. Loren says

    I watched the glee episode and they talked about taking decongestants and the thumbless cough syrup guy. I think that it was very irresponsible of the producers to put that on their show. There should be action toward this matter in my opinion and would like to write the producers a letter but I doubt they would even read it or even receive it.


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