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Trends in Teen OTC Drug Use

A rising trend in teen drug use today is the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The reasons for this are varied, but one explanation is that OTC drugs are readily available. From the family medicine cabinet to the Internet pharmacy, teens have easy access to products that when used as directed are safe and effective, but when taken in excess can be dangerous - even lethal.

Abuse of OTC drugs is particularly common among teens aged 13 to 16. While younger teens may not have the money for or be willing to take the risks involved in purchasing and using street drugs, they know they can easily find a cheap high in their own bathroom, often without being caught.

One OTC drug popular with young teens is dextromethorphan (DXM). This drug is found in many cough syrups and cold medications, including Robitussin, Vicks, Coricidin, and Nyquil. It's estimated that as many as 10 percent of teens have used cough and cold products to get high, and as many as one in four teens know someone that abuses these medications.

Other OTC medications commonly used by teens are diet pills, motion sickness pills (such as Dramamine), pain medications, and sexual enhancement medications.

Most teens that abuse OTC medications are unaware of the potential dangers. Since these drugs are legal and have been given to them by parents when they're ill, kids think they're safer than illegal drugs. In fact, as many as one third of teens think it's okay to use OTC medications to get high at least once in awhile, and more than half of all teens don't feel it's particularly risky to do so.

Unfortunately, parents are often unaware of both the prevalence of teen OTC drug use and the potential danger associated with abusing these drugs. Drug education programs usually focus on illegal drugs and parents often only talk to their children about drugs like marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine rather than cough syrup and cold pills.

The best way to reverse this alarming trend is for parents to educate themselves about the dangers of OTC drug use and share their knowledge with their children and other parents.