According to teenhelp.com, an Internet resource for teens and parents, one of the fastest growing teen trends is Over-the-Counter (OTC) drugs. There are countless reasons why teenagers choose to abuse OTC drugs. One of the primary factors is that they are more accessible than illegal drugs.
It is not hard to find a drug store. Sometimes there are two across the street from each other. Also, teens often view OTC drugs as “safer” than illegal drugs since they can be purchased legally in a local neighborhood pharmacy.
For most teens, using OTC drugs to get high or help them pull an “all-nighter” while studying is not a problem. OTC drugs are increasingly becoming an accepted part of teen culture. Unfortunately, many of these teens do not realize that they are in danger, sometimes fatally, when they abuse OTC drugs.
I found some time last week to talk to the teens in recovery at our drug and alcohol addiction and mental health facility about OTC medicine abuse. We held an impromptu round table discussion where some of the teens provided us with an unfiltered account on what OTC medicine abuse is really like as they drew from their own experiences.
Here are some important points that were raised by the teens about OTC medicine abuse:
- There is a clear line in the sand between teens who abuse OTC medicine and those that use illicit drugs. For example, some teens who participated in the discussion are being treated strictly for marijuana abuse and had no idea about OTC medicine abuse. It was as if the teens who used OTC drugs were speaking a foreign language to them.
- One teen, who used OTC medicine on a frequent basis prior to entering our facility, claimed that because of the glamorization of medicine abuse by rappers, many teens are drawn to it. One particular music artist, Chief Keef, was cited as a rapper whose lyrics speak about medicine abuse favorably. The drug the rapper was referring to is “Triple C,” which product name is Robitussin. This OTC drug comes in both pill and liquid forms and is supposed to be used as a cold remedy.
- We asked the teens how they can afford to buy OTC medicine like Robitussin and Mucinex which can be expensive, ranging in price from $10 to $50, depending on the quantities and the store location. Their answer was simple. They either stole it from the pharmacy or robbed someone and with the money had an adult buy it for them
- Teens at first think taking OTC drugs is just harmless fun, but soon learn that continuous use of these medicines can lead to the use of more dangerous drugs like opiates since they begin to build a tolerance
- Teens with disciplinary or probationary strikes against them turn to OTC as an alternative source for getting high as they don’t show up in drug tests. This has become more of an issue as more schools are randomly drug testing their students.
- The Triple-C street name came about so teens can talk about drugs without adults knowing what type of drug they were on – like secret code language.
- Those who sell drugs to other teens usually steal them from stores or from their home medicine cabinet.
- Once a teen has built up enough tolerance to OTC medicine containing Acetaminophen like Excedrin, which contains a high dosage of caffeine, it can often lead to them taking street drugs that have a more pronounced, but similar effect. The drugs they switch to are “uppers” or “stimulants,” like cocaine or meth and these serve to replicate the feeling in a more intense manner.
- OTC and prescription medicine are considered by some teens to be more addictive because they think they are not as bad for them in comparison to more dangerous drugs like meth, cocaine or heroin.
- The teens also mentioned cough syrups and capsules containing dextromethorphan (DXM). These OTC medicines are safe for stopping a cough if you take them as directed. But taking more than the recommended amount, which teens suffering from OTC addiction often do, can produce euphoria (a relaxed pleasurable feeling) and dissociative effects (like you are detached from your body).
- Another often abused OTC drug cited by the teens is promethazine, which is more commonly known as codeine cough syrup. These prescription medications contain an opioid drug called codeine, which stops coughs, but when taken in higher dosages, it also produces euphoria.
- Most teens start their OTC addiction when another teen gives them medicine for free to try it out. It soon evolves into a habitual ritual for these teens.
The round table discussion was a complete success for the teens at Inspiration for Youth and Families as they were able to learn more about OTC’s harmful effects from each other and contribute valuable information to the public including parents who need to know this information.
Karen Corcoran-Walsh owns and runs two dual diagnosis substance abuse treatment centers in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. One is for teens – Inspirations for Youth and Families – and the other – the Cove Center for Recovery is for men and women. Karen has been a guest on Dr. Phil and Ask Dr. Nandi. two nationally televised day-time shows on multiple occasions.