Parenting advice about a risky teen behavior: cold and cough medicine abuse with potentially tragic consequences including addictions as well as death
Risky dangers in your medicine cabinet
When is the last time you checked your medicine cabinet for cold and cough syrup medications–especially those bearing the letter DXM? What about your prescription drugs?
One of the riskiest teen behaviors is right in your own medicine cabinet. Taking cough and cold medications continues to be a hot craze for kids, but now younger kids are joining ranks. Pharmacies and drug stores are now locking these medicines up to fight off kid theft. Here is everything you need to know to protect your child from this very risky and potentially life-threatening behavior.
Dextromethorphan or DXM
The ingredient found in most popular nonprescription cold and cough medicines — called Dextromethorphan or DXM– can be safely taken in the recommended dosage.
The American Medical Association released a warning to parents that when kids take this in large amounts it can become a dangerous producing euphoric highs and hallucinations and become a deadly mind-altering drug. Many kids are taking as much as 25 to 50 times the recommended dose to get high. (You do the math!)
Perhaps because medicines containing DXM are easily accessible in drug stores (or medicine cabinets) and is legal, cold-and cough syrup abuse has soared in recent years. Drug stores are now keeping these medicines under lock and key. But know there are over 120 medicines with DXM in them.
Troubling Stats On Teen Medicine Abuse
One out of every fourteen kids aged 12 to 17 (more than 2.4 million) admit using cold or cough medicine “fairly recently” to get high
The highest incidents of abuse are amongst teens 15 to 16-year-olds
One in ten teens say they have used Vicodin, a potentially habit-forming painkiller
OxyContin, stimulants like Ritalin, inhalers (all prescription medications and often “borrowed” from family members) are widely used among teens
Only 45 percent of teens believe that abusing cough medicine to get high is risky.
8 Signs of Medicine Abuse
On the TODAY show I shared the following signs and solutions to parents. Please read these carefully. Cold and cough syrup abuse is dangerous. Knowing these signs may save a child’s life.
1. Listen for code words. Skittling, Tussing, Skittles, Robo-tripping, Red Devils, Velvet, Triple C, C-C-C-, Robotard are some of the names kids use for cough and cold medication abuse.
2. Tune into changes in your teen’s behavior. A change in friends, physical appearance and hygiene, eating or sleeping patterns; hostile and uncooperative attitude; unexplained disappearance of household money; visits to pro-drug web sites
3. Look for empty medicine wrappers or bottles. Teens (and tweens) either take several pills or smash them so all of it is released at once. Look in pockets, garbage cans, cars, under beds, etc. for empty wrappers.
4. Look for unusual medicinal smells on your child or in his or her room.
5. Watch for side effects of DXM abuse. These include confusion, impaired judgment, blurred vision, dizziness, itching, drowsiness, paranoia, excessive sweating, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, headaches, facial redness, disorientation.
6. Smell for a medicinal odor.The cough syrup will have an odor. Pills will not.
7. Check your child’s vitals. Check for slurry speech. Check your son or daughter’s eyes. Watch also for sleepiness or wobbly walking. (Check the alcohol content on the cough syrup bottle. It may shock you).
8. Notice if your child complains of a cold or cough but doesn’t have the symptoms.
How to Protect Teens from Medicine Abuse
Keep track of how much medicine is in your house. Keep medicines that could potentially be abused in less accessible places or under lock and key.
Monitor your family’s prescription drugs.
Read medicine labels. Look for medicines that contain dextromethorphan or DXM in the active ingredient section of the over-the-counter Drug Facts label.
Examples include Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Cough Medicine, Sucrets, Theraflu. Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold, Dayquil LiquiCaps, Dimetapp DM, Robitussin cough products, Sudafed cough products, Triaminic cough syrups, Tylenol Cold products, Vicks 44 Cough Relief products, and Vicks NyQuil LiquiCaps.
Don’t stockpile on over-the-counter medicines. It might tempt your teen or his friends.
Monitor your teen’s Internet use.Many website and online communities promote the abuse of DMT or other drugs. Social networking sites such as MySpace, YouTube and Facebook provided detailed instructions for getting high as well as videos of kids abusing cough medicine.
Also, check your credit card statements: teens buy many of these drugs easily on the Internet.
Talk about the dangers. Kids perceive that because cough and cold medications are available in drug stores, they are safe. Talk about the dangers of abuse (and combining those medications with alcohol and other drugs). Also know that kids are abusing many other items such as shoe polish, rubber cement, white-out, and antihistamines and Ritalin to get high.
Stay on top of this!!! Kids are taking this stuff 25 to 50 times the recommended dosage and also taking it WITH alcohol. Doing so can be lethal. Teens also crunch up those little time capsules and take them in one lump dose. Check your child’s pockets.
Join the Five Moms Campaign
If you ever had a ounce of doubt about the dangers of cold or cough medication, please read this letter I received from Misty Fetko.
My name is Misty Fetko. I am a registered nurse, mom of two, and the newest member of the Five Moms: Stopping Cough Medicine Abuse campaign. As I have been told, you have been one of the biggest allies of the Stop Medicine Abuse program, and I speak for everyone who’s been involved (even though I’m new!) when I say thank you for what you’ve done for these initiatives.
In 2003, I discovered my older son, Carl, unresponsive in his bedroom. He passed away that day from a lethal mix of drugs including Fentanyl, a prescription narcotic; marijuana; and dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicines.
As an emergency room nurse, I know about substance abuse from first-hand experience, but even with all that knowledge I never knew that teens were abusing cough medicine to get high. I’ve joined the Five Moms campaign in an effort to ensure that parents have all the information about medicine abuse that I unfortunately did not have.
To celebrate the three year anniversary of the Five Moms program, and all of the hard work of our supporters, I recorded a video to share my story. In my video, I discuss the loss of my son to medicine and drug abuse and my experience working with other parents as part of the Five Moms campaign.
Thank you, Misty.
Now go talk to your kids!
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
You can also find dozens of research-based and practical tips to raise strong kids from the inside out in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.