The Five Moms

We are five moms from different backgrounds who have come together with a common concern: teenagers abusing OTC cough medicine to get high.

Parents, we have the power to make a difference! Read our blog to learn more.

July 12, 2016 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at a case study on how the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) has addressed the issue of teenage abuse of dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient in most over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines.

We’ve all been there. There comes a time every year when just about everyone has a cough. Before you know it, there you are, joining the choir of coughs you hear throughout the day. If your cough is pestering but manageable, you are likely to self-medicate with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like the majority of Americans. Chances are, that cough suppressant you pick up at your local pharmacy includes the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM).

OTC medicines with DXM have proven invaluable to our healthcare system by empowering families with the ability to treat their own symptoms. If taken according to labeling instructions, DXM is safe and effective in treating even the most annoying of coughs. In 2006, however, we learned from a Monitoring the Future survey that OTC medicines with DXM were being consumed in quantities far greater than directed by teens to get “high.” 

As part of efforts to prevent the rates of DXM abuse from increasing, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), the group that launched StopMedicineAbuse.org, implemented a series of targeted campaigns to increase awareness of the dangers of the issue. While a cause-and-effect relationship between these efforts and abuse rates cannot be guaranteed, reported abuse of DXM by teens decreased by 35% from 2010 to 2015. This is great news, but as the case study from CHPA in Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy shows – there’s more that we, as parents, can do to stop medicine abuse.

David Binder Research surveyed parents over the past five years on what medicine abuse prevention efforts they are engaged in. The results can be seen in the table below:

David Binder Research (asked of adults)
Q. Which, if any, of the following actions have you taken? 2010 2011 2012
Monitored the amount of cough medicine in your household 31% N/A 39%
Take steps to safeguard safe storage 30% N/A 38%
Talked to your child about the dangers of cough medicine abuse 42% N/A 46%

As the findings above demonstrate, it is important for parents to come together to continue to spread awareness about this issue in order to increase prevention efforts. 

Here are three ways you can take action today to help prevent medicine abuse: 

  1. Talk. Have a conversation with your teen about the harmful side effects associated with cough medicine abuse.
  2. Look closer. Monitor both your medicines as well as your teen’s behavior. Taking stock of the medicines in your home is a great way of staying vigilant. Besides checking for DXM as an active ingredient, an easy way to pinpoint medicines that contain DXM is to keep an eye out for the Stop Medicine Abuse icon on medicine packaging (see below). It’s also important to look closer for changes in your teen’s behavior that could indicate warning signs of abuse.
  3. Speak up. Share what you know about teen DXM abuse with other parents in your community. Here are some tools you can use to take action today.

We can all contribute in the fight to stop medicine abuse and, as outlined by the research, there is more that can be done. Feel free to read the full case study and comment below to let us know what other preventative actions you’re taking to help stop medicine abuse.