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The Appeal of Cough Medications

According to a recent survey performed by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, as many as one in 11 teens had abused cough medicines containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan, or DXM. Chemically similar to morphine, DXM is added to medications such as Robitussin, Vicks Formula 44, and Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold tablets. When used as directed, DXM is a safe and effective ingredient, but taken in extremely large doses, DXM can cause many undesired side effects and even death.

Depending on the amount taken, DXM can causes dizziness, blurry vision, confusion, slurred speech, lack of motor control, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, rapid heart beat, and disorientation. Combined with alcohol or other medications or illegal substances, the side effects can be far more severe.

Why do teens use cough syrup to get high? It is legal, cheap, and readily accessible. Teens can find cough medicine right at home in the medicine cabinet or in friends' medicine cabinets. And information on how much DXM to take in order to get high is right at their fingertips on the Internet.

Many teens, and even parents, believe that over-the-counter medications like cough syrup are less harmful than street drugs. But hospitals have reported dozens of overdoses involving OTC drugs over the past several years.

How can parents help prevent cough syrup abuse? The Partnership for a Drug-Free America says that parental involvement is the key factor in safeguarding teens from drug abuse. Research has shown that teens who do not use drugs say it is because they don't want to disappoint their parents. In other words, parents can help their kids make better choices by making it clear where they stand on drug use, including the abuse of OTC drugs.

The Partnership says parents can take action to protect their teens with three words: educate, communicate, and safeguard. That is, educate yourself about the drugs that kids are using these days. Then teach your children about the dangers of drug use. Finally, safeguard your medications by limiting access to them and keeping track of the quantities you have in your home.