Sarah Ford | October 31, 2013

Preventing Kids from Abusing Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medicines

Source: Children’s National

Preventing Kids from Abusing Prescription and Over-the-Counter MedicinesWhile prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines serve an important role when used under a doctor’s care, the misuse of these medicines is a growing problem among today’s youth. According to the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), every day, almost 2,500 teens abuse a prescription medicine for the first time and the 2011 “Monitoring the Future”study reported that 5 percent of teens have abused OTC cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high.

As a parent, are both prescription drug and over-the-counter cough medicine abuse on your radar?

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month and aims to educate families about the potentials risks associated with prescription and over-the-counter medicine abuse. Children’s National Health System’s Brooke Rosman Bokor, MD, MPH, emphasized that National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month prompts us to remember how important prevention is throughout the entire year.

“It’s important for parents to have open lines of communication with teenagers so issues like medicine abuse can be worked into the conversation periodically,” said Dr. Bokor, an adolescent medicine specialist. “Open lines of communication are the preventive measures for all risky behaviors.”

In observance of National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, below are some tips for preventing prescription drug or over-the-counter cough medicine abuse in your home: 

  • Establish open lines of communication. Dr. Bokor recommended that parents establish an open dialogue with children to discuss safe methods for coping with stress, fatigue, heavy academic and athletic demands, and peer pressure so they don’t look to over-the-counter or prescription medicines to cope.
  • Set clear expectations. According to The Partnership at, parents need to make it clear to children that they have a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs or medicine abuse. Dr. Bokor also said anytime parents give their child medicine, they should explain what the medicine is and reinforce when it is appropriate to use this medicine.
  • Know the warning signs. According to Stop Medicine Abuse the warning signs of OTC cough medicine abuse could include empty bottles or packages of cough medicine in your child’s backpack or trash, loss of interest in activities, and changes in friends, and declining grades, physical appearance, or daily habits.
  • Educate yourself on the symptoms. The symptoms of medicine abuse are subject to the particular medicine being abused. For a list of over-the-counter cough medicine abuse signs and symptoms, visit
  • Monitor your medicine cabinet. Take preventative steps to protect your children by monitoring the family medicine cabinet and maintaining an inventory of all medicines. “It’s important that providers and parents pay attention to how often kids are going through medicines,” said Dr. Bokor.
  • Monitor internet usage periodically. Dr. Bokor explained that kids can easily find information online about how to abuse over-the-counter medicines.

Dr. Bokor emphasized that conversations and monitoring are two prevention tools that parents should focus on to ensure children do not abuse medicines.

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