Information About OTC Cough Medicine Abuse
OTC cough medicines containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) have been providing families with safe and effective relief from coughing for generations. Dextromethorphan was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1950s and, when used according to label directions, helps relieve cough symptoms.
There are well over 100 OTC medicines that contain DXM, either as the only active ingredient or in combination with other active ingredients. Examples include Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Cough Formula, Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold, Dimetapp® DM, Mucinex® DM tablets, PediaCare cough medicines, certain Robitussin® cough products, Sudafed cough products, TheraFlu Cough products, Triaminic cough products, Tylenol Cough and Tylenol Cold products, Vicks 44 Cough Relief products, and certain Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil LiquiCaps. There also are a number of store brands that contain dextromethorphan, as well.
While recognized as safe and effective by FDA when used according to the Drug Facts label, dextromethorphan’s effects can be dangerous when abused in extreme doses. Reports indicate that teens looking to get high take anywhere from 25 to 50 times the recommended amount on the label, which can often translate to multiple bottles or packages of medicine at one time.
Good Medicines, Bad Behaviors
Cough medicine abuse is a situation of 'good medicines, bad behavior.' The fact of the matter is that teen cough medicine abuse does not happen by accident; it involves intentionally taking huge amounts—sometimes 25-50 times the recommended dose—of medication to get high. The ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines that teens are abusing is dextromethorphan, or DXM. While DXM-containing medicines are safe and effective when used as directed, they can be dangerous when abused in extreme amounts.
Educational Icon Helps You Understand the Issue
The makers of OTC cough medicines containing DXM have introduced an educational icon on their medicines’ packages. The icon helps raise awareness about the teen abuse of cough medicines and provides the StopMedicineAbuse.org web site as a resource for more information. It also provides a great conversation starter with your teens about cough medicine abuse.
At recommended doses, OTC cough medicines give you cough relief and have little or no physical or psychological side effects. When abused—sometimes at 25–50 times the recommended dose—dextromethorphan-containing cough medicines can cause strong visual hallucinations, mild distortions of color and sound, out-of-body sensations, confusion, slurred speech, or the loss of motor control. Other serious side effects can include:
- Panic attacks
- Memory problems
- Blurred vision
- Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
- High blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
- Numbness of fingers and toes
- Drowsiness and dizziness
- Fever and headaches
- Rashes and itchy skin
- Loss of consciousness
The effects can be worsened if the DXM-containing cough medicine being abused also contains other ingredients to treat more than just coughs or if it is being abused in combination with other medications, or taken with alcohol and illegal drugs.
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