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!

April 15, 2014 —

My son was 16 when he was arrested for shoplifting a bottle of cough medicine. The police officer said he was probably stealing it for the alcohol. It was Friday after school and I let him spend the weekend in jail – tough love.

I thought it would be a lesson that would stop him from shoplifting.

I didn’t know it wasn’t the shoplifting that was the real problem, or that the cough medicine he was stealing wasn’t for its alcohol content, but for the dextromethorphan.

It took years for me to put it all together: that bottle of cough medicine, the blister packs of pills I found in his room, the emptied drug cabinets, his plummet from being an A student to flunking classes, the rages that made me fear him, the seizures that became debilitating.

My son, barely a freshman in high school at the time, was experimenting with his friends on ways to get high cheaply and almost legally and had stumbled on his drug of choice. It was dextromethorphan -- cheap and easy to get, available on the shelves of practically any store. He took it by the pack, multiple packs, lethal doses to get the feeling he craved.

He was 23 when the people who loved him stood around a grave and said our goodbyes. Police had found him dead in his apartment after no one had been able to get him on the phone or to the door for a week.

Statistics tell us teens experiment with ways to get high – and one of those most insidious ways is with medication. They think it is safe. They don’t have to deal with a shady drug dealer or the fear of being arrested for possession. It’s often in the medicine cabinet at home.

While school programs are teaching them about the dangers of drug use, it is hard to tell children not to take the medicine their parents give them. It’s hard for children and teens to understand where to draw the line, and that makes it easier to step over it. It’s easy for us to miss the signs or misread them. It’s hard for us to separate trust and the constant questions and prying that so often drive our children away.

But what can you do?

  1. Be careful with your attitude toward medication. Do your kids see you take double the recommended doses of anything? If you take medication, follow the directions and make sure your children understand why. When you give medicine to your kids, do the same.
  2. Consider keeping all medication under lock and key and explain that it is for the safety of everyone. Maybe you have company with younger children or you can blame it on protecting expensive prescriptions from thieves. You can come up with a way to manage the medicine in your house.
  3. Watch not only your child's behavior, but that of his/her friends who may easily pave the way for your child. If you're concerned, tell your child that random drug tests are going to be part of life. They could be the price for something they want to have or do or the cost of choosing friends you don't like. You can point to someone else's loss and tell them you just want to feel better.

If your kids are young, change your mindset towards medicine abuse now and avoid increasing tension later. If they’re already teens, make changes immediately and deal with the potential consequences. Trust me: It beats the alternative.

Struggling to cope with my son’s addiction, learning tough love, accepting that I was living one day at a time just as he was, finally coping with his loss and knowing that it was all so senseless are lessons families should not have to endure.


Angela Schmoll is a former journalist with a 25-year-career in newspapers who "retired" when the recession hit. She now owns her own small business, is a stay-at-home grandmother and remains a compulsive writer. Her youngest child, Ethan, died in December 2013 after seven years of abuse of and addiction to OTC cough medicine. Follow her at thereluctantgrandma.blogspot.com, find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter at @reluctantma.