May 09, 2017 —

As a father of five and an active Boys Scouts of America explorer leader, the health of young people is very important to me. I want to see the teens in my state of Washington and across the country succeed and lead healthy lives.

That’s why I’m proud of Washington for being part of the movement to prevent the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine among America’s teens. OTC medicine abuse does not receive the same media attention as alcohol, marijuana or prescription medicine abuse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. 

Most OTC cough medicines contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) and while millions of consumers use DXM responsibly to relieve their cold symptoms, about one in 30 teens reports abusing excessive amounts of DXM to get high. The side effects of DXM abuse include a loss of motor control, vomiting and hallucinations – and these risks only increase when DXM is paired with other substances. Many teens who abuse OTC medicine containing DXM obtain it from their own homes or off the shelves of pharmacies.

In my role as a state legislator, I worked to change that here in Washington. In 2014, Washington became the fourth state to prohibit the sale of OTC medicine containing DXM to minors. Over the past decade, teen DXM abuse has gone from just under 6 percent to 3.2 percent – evidence that prevention efforts like sales restrictions are making a nation-wide difference. Since Washington’s age-18 sales law was passed, eight states have followed suit. 

These laws ensure that teens who seek to abuse OTC medicines containing DXM are unable to purchase these products from pharmacies without a parent. In Washington, our goal is to decrease the abuse rate of OTC cough medicines by teens, without decreasing access for the millions of legitimate consumers who use these products responsibly.  

Preventing teen OTC cough medicine abuse takes a community of passionate and concerned individuals working together. If you’d like to be involved in prevention efforts in your own community, check out these Tools to Take Action.

Washington State Representative Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) was elected in 2010, but has called the 17th District home for more than 30 years. He and his wife Lori raised their five kids in Clark County.

He owns Solid Solutions, LLC., a Vancouver-based company which does sales, marketing, consulting and public relations work. Paul served on the Evergreen School Board of Directors for 10 years, and is active in the community with Boy Scouts of America and serves as an Explorer Scout Leader. Paul is also a cancer survivor.

Paul earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Brigham Young University.