2020 Monitoring the Future Survey Results: Rates of Teen OTC Cough Medicine Abuse Slightly Rise

2020 was a challenging year that brought significant stress — and, as new survey findings show, a slight increase in adolescent over-the-counter cough (OTC) medicine abuse. The 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey reveals that 3.7% of teens reported using OTC cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high, an increase from 2.8% in 2019. Most notably, the misuse of OTC cough medicine among eighth graders has gradually increased over the past five years, reaching 4.6% in 2020 – the highest rate since 2006.

While this rise in teen OTC cough medicine abuse may be slight, it is still cause for parents’ caution and concern. Make sure you know what abuse looks like, and how you can prevent it.

The long-running Monitoring the Future survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, examines the trends and prevalence of adolescent substance abuse. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the survey is given annually to students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grade who self-report their substance use perceptions and behaviors. Although data collection in 2020 was stopped prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey’s findings were statistically weighted to provide national numbers.

“Drug experimentation starts in adolescence, and adolescents using drugs are the most vulnerable to have adverse consequences, including addiction.”
– NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow

Other notable findings from the MTF survey include:

  • Levels of nicotine and marijuana vaping among teens in the United States remain high.
  • Alcohol use among teens has not significantly changed over the past five years.
  • While the use of amphetamines among eighth graders increased from 3.5% in 2017 to 5.3% in 2020, 10th and 12th graders reported recent lows in past years use at 4.3% for both grades and significant 5-year declines.
  • Cigarette use among teens has dropped at least four-fold since the mid-1990s and is at or near historic lows.

Tracking and understanding trends in substance use can better equip parents and community leaders to start conversations about substance use prevention in their homes and communities. If you’re interested in starting a conversation with your teen or learning more, here are some helpful resources:

  1. Understand how your teen might be talking about medicine misuse with this guide to “lean” slang.
  2. Get inspired to open a dialogue with these tips for starting a conversation, straight from a teen.
  3. Help your teen manage their feelings and combat boredom during the pandemic.
  4. And as the pandemic continues, be sure to manage your own mental health.

Take Action

Increased awareness can only mean increased prevention. Join us in the fight against teen cough medicine abuse by exploring and sharing our free resources.