The First Line of Defense: How Retailers are Helping Prevent OTC Medicine Abuse

One of the easiest ways to prevent abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine by teenagers is to restrict access to it. As a mother of three teens, I applaud the 14 states that have passed laws prohibiting minors from purchasing OTC cough medicines containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM). In addition, almost all chain stores have voluntarily adopted this age restriction across all states where they operate. Thanks to the efforts of state lawmakers and national retailers, it’s safe to say that access is now limited in the vast majority of the country. This is of course great news, and it proves that the combination of policy efforts and public education around an issue such as medicine abuse can lead to real change. In fact, since California passed the first age restriction law in 2012, we’ve seen a decrease in abuse rates from 5% in 2012 to 3%.

Sean Clarkin, Executive Vice President of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids sums it up perfectly:

“The declines we’ve seen over the past several years in teen misuse and abuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medicine have been due in part to innovative prevention programming aimed at teens and parents – but retailers have also played a critically important role.  Making these abusable medications much less accessible at retail to teens under 18 has arguably been the decisive factor in reducing the overall prevalence of this dangerous and unhealthy behavior.”

While you can restrict access in your own home by monitoring your medicine cabinet, the first line of defense is in the stores that sell these medicines. That’s why we have created free resources for retailers to download or order and share with their employees. These materials help retail employees identify products containing DXM and provide guidance on the steps they need to take before selling the product to someone who might be under age 18.

The “Check Before Checkout” resources include register reminders for employees to reference at the point of sale as well as state-specific handouts which can be given to customers purchasing cough medicine that inform them of the law in their state. By ensuring that retailers and their employees are fully equipped with information and resources, we can make a big difference in preventing abuse.

Learn more about our retailer education initiative here. For more information on what you can do to help prevent abuse in your community, click here.

Follow the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign on Facebook and Twitter to join the conversation and learn tips on preventing risky teen behavior like OTC medicine abuse.

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.