A Decade of Prevention – 10 Years of the “Stop Medicine Abuse” Icon

Over a decade ago, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) launched the Stop Medicine Abuse initiative to address reports that some teens abuse over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high. Our campaign goal was simple: raise awareness of the behavior with parents and arm them with the information they need to help prevent abuse. To complement these efforts, CHPA also works to directly discourage teens from abusing DXM and restrict their access to these medicines.

Fortunately, DXM abuse rates have decreased in recent years, due in part to the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign, collaborations with organizations like the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and broader efforts taken by the leading manufactures of OTC cough medicines.

This year marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the most meaningful actions taken by the OTC industry: the voluntary addition of a special icon on the packaging for OTC cough and cold products, pictured below, informing parents which medicines contain DXM, warning parents about the potential for abuse, and encouraging them to learn more.

DXM is a safe and effective ingredient when taken according to the Drug Facts label, but research showed that as many as 1 in 30 teens has consumed excessive amounts—sometimes up to 25 times the dosage—to get high. Some teens believe that since DXM is available OTC, it is less risky to abuse than illicit or prescription drugs. In reality, abusing DXM can result in dangerous side effects such as blurred vision, vomiting, slurred speech, decreased coordination, and more.

For these reasons, makers of DXM-containing products wanted to ensure that parents and guardians of teens were aware of the risks and had the proper tools to monitor their medicine cabinets and spot warning signs of abuse in their teens.

Ten years later, the “Parents” icon is still on the packaging of leading brands of OTC cough medicine, yet only 21% of parents are aware of its existence.

This effort has been helped by the many retailers and states that have put in place age-18 sales restrictions on certain products, making it more difficult for minors to obtain DXM. However, the help of parents, teachers, and community members is still needed to spread the word about the dangers of abusing OTC cough medicine and the importance of safe and responsible use.

You can learn more about detecting and preventing OTC medicine abuse by clicking here. Stay updated on new studies and trends in teen behavior, advice for keeping teens away from risky behaviors, general teen parenting tips, and more by keeping up with the Stop Medicine Abuse initiative on Facebook, Twitter, and the Stop Medicine Abuse blog.

It’s amazing what a positive difference 10 years makes when you work together. At the beginning of this initiative teen cough medicine abuse was around six percent, but in the most recent national survey, it was down to three percent. Now, let’s work over the next few years to reduce this abuse rate even more.


Scott Melville is the president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) and leads the organization’s efforts to empower consumer self-care by preserving and expanding choice and availability of consumer healthcare products, including over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, dietary supplements and consumer medical devices.

Prior to joining CHPA, he served as senior vice president of government affairs and general counsel for the Healthcare Distribution Management Association (now the Healthcare Distribution Alliance), representing pharmaceutical wholesale distributors

Scott currently serves on the boards of the World Self-Medication Industry, the CHPA Educational Foundation, and the Food & Drug Law Institute. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @scottmmelville.