Parents warned of over-the-counter drug abuse

Doug Rogers

Special to the Morning Star

Over-the-counter drug abuse (pharmaceuticals) is a problem rapidly on the increase – especially among young adults. Not only do you as a parent have to worry about your teenage child using illegal and dangerous drugs like heroin and amphetamines (various forms of speed) – but increasingly over-the-counter medications too, that you would assume to be safe, like cough medicine/syrup.

Emergency department visits for misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals has nearly doubled from 2004-2009 (

Commonly Abused Prescription Medications (NIDA, 2011)

Although many prescription medications can be abused, the following three classes are most commonly abused:

n Opioids – usually prescribed to treat pain. Opioids are analgesic, or pain-relieving, medications. Studies have shown that properly managed medical use (taken exactly as prescribed) of opioid analgesics is safe, can manage pain effectively, and rarely causes addiction.

Among the compounds that fall within this class are hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin – an oral, controlled-release form of the drug), morphine, fentanyl, codeine, and related medications.

Opioids can be taken orally, or the pills may be crushed and the powder snorted or injected. A number of overdose deaths have resulted from the latter routes of administration, particularly with the drug OxyContin, which was designed to be a slow-release formulation. Snorting or injecting opioids results in the rapid release of the drug into the bloodstream, exposing the person to high doses and causing many of the reported overdose reactions.

n CNS depressants – used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. CNS depressants (e.g., tranquilizers, sedatives) are medications that slow normal brain function. In higher doses, some CNS depressants can be used as general anesthetics.

n Stimulants – prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Stimulants (amphetamines [Adderall, Dexedrine] and methylphenidate [Concerta, Ritalin]) increase alertness, attention, and energy.

nDextromethorphan (DXM) is the active ingredient found in over the counter cough and cold medications. When taken in recommended doses, these medications are safe and effective.

DXM is taken orally. In order to experience the mind-altering effects of DXM, excessive amounts of liquid or gelcaps must be consumed. The availability and accessibility of these products make them a serious concern, particularly for youth, who tend to be their primary abusers.

What can be done?

Become aware of what your child is doing and using. Look out for them keeping over-the-counter drugs in their room or school bags. Notice if any over the counter medicines you keep at home seems to be disappearing quickly (and stop stocking them if you do!).

Educate your child about the dangers of over-the-counter drug abuse. If you have old medicines in you cabinet take them to your local pharmacy for proper disposal (don’t flush them down the toilet as they may contaminate our water source).

Please talk to your children about drug abuse and establish a no-use rule.

Doug Rogers is the substance abuse prevention counsellor with the Vernon School District.