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Most Commonly Used OTC Drugs

One of the fastest growing types of drugs abused by teens today is over-the-counter (OTC) medications. These medications are readily available, inexpensive, and perceived by many teens to be perfectly safe.

What are the most popular OTC drugs used by teens?

Cough Medicine: Many cough medicines contain an ingredient called dextromethorphan (DXM). While this ingredient is safe and effective for treating coughs when used as directed, it can produce a "high," as well as dangerous side effects, when used in large amounts. Some of the adverse effects of DXM include confusion, dizziness, distorted vision, slurred speech, trouble with coordination, drowsiness, rapid heart beat, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and loss of motor control.

Diet Pills: Teens may begin using diet pills as well as laxatives and diuretics (pills to rid the body of excess water) in order to lose weight. But even the most natural diet pill can be dangerous. While the FDA has banned several ingredients commonly found in diet pills due to concerns about safety (phenylpropanolamine and ephedrine), this does not mean that other ingredients contained in diet pills are safe. One particular ingredient called bitter orange contains a substance made from the fruit of the citrus aurantium plant, which acts much like ephedrine in the body. It can cause nervousness and tremor, increased heartbeat, high blood pressure, and even heart failure. Many other diet pill ingredients cause digestive problems, kidney problems, and dehydration.

Pain Relievers: Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen are both safe and effective when used properly. But teens may abuse these medications because they believe them to be safe, even when used in greater amounts than directed on the label. They mistakenly believe if two Tylenol don't help, two more might work. Yet acetaminophen toxicity is one of the most common causes of acute liver failure, a condition that is more likely if acetaminophen is used at the same time alcoholic drinks are ingested. And ibuprofen in excess can cause stomach bleeding and even kidney failure.

Motion Sickness Pills: Motion sickness pills such as Dramamine taken in large doses (an entire package or more) can cause hallucinations.

Sexual Performance Pills: OTC sexual performance pills are sometimes used by teens that are drinking in an effort to counteract the effects of alcohol on sexual performance. These medications can cause heart problems, especially in combination with alcohol.

While many parents talk to their children about drug use, most of these discussions center on street drugs. It's important for parents to be aware of the potential for OTC drug abuse so they can educate their children about the dangers of these drugs.