Thursday, April 5, 2012

OTC Cough Medicine Abuse

Misty Fetko, R.N.

As a registered nurse, I am very familiar with the serious issue of substance abuse. But it wasn’t until July 2003, when my son Carl died from a lethal mix of drugs, including a prescription narcotic, marijuana, and dextromethorphan—the active ingredient found in many over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines—that I found out about teens abusing OTC cough medicines to get high.

The truth is that cough medicine abuse can touch any family, and, unfortunately, my story is a prime example of this fact. I never suspected that my own son was participating in this type of dangerous behavior.

Since Carl’s death, I have spent a lot of time educating parents about the dangers of cough medicine abuse. Recently I became a member of the Five Moms campaign, a national effort to raise awareness about this behavior, so that I could prevent other parents from suffering the same tragedy as my family.

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, and the Five Moms are educating as many parents as possible about the dangers of cough medicine abuse among teens. Just recently, we visited Washington, D.C., to help spread the word to both parents and legislators about this important issue.

Joining us in D.C. was Dr. Drew Pinsky, a renowned expert on drug abuse and star of VH1’s "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House." Together, we visited key legislators, participated in media interviews, and met with bloggers to raise awareness about the dangers of teen cough medicine abuse. Most importantly, we emphasized how critical it is for parents to talk with their teens about the risks of cough medicine abuse.

So what do parents need to know? First, that one in 10 teens (or 2.4 million young people) report abusing over-the-counter cough medicines. This abuse is no accident: teens are intentionally taking excessive amounts of these cough medicines containing dextromethorphan. Sometimes 25 to 50 times the recommended dose.

With an understanding of the behavior itself, we can take steps towards preventing this type of abuse in our teens. Read Dr. Drew’s post to learn about the importance of understanding the issue, being aware of the warning signs, and most importantly, talking to your teens about the risks.

When I found an empty bottle of cough medicine in Carl’s car, I looked to the Internet for information but could not find any resources to help me understand that this could be an indicator of a larger problem. Fortunately, there are now excellent resources for parents Here, parents can access the information I unfortunately did not have, including warning signs of cough medicine abuse, tips on how to communicate with your teen, and tools to prevent this type of abuse in your own home.

Five Moms was developed and is supported by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, whose members are the makers of OTC cough medicines.

Quick Tips
There are a few simple steps parents can take to address cough medicine abuse in their homes:
 Visit to learn the signs of abuse
 Communicate the dangers of cough medicine abuse to your child
 Safeguard your medicine cabinet and take a regular inventory
 Monitor your teen’s Internet use
 Seek expert advice if you see signs of abuse

About the Author:
Misty Fetko is an emergency room nurse and mother who lost her son, Carl, to a lethal combination of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines in 2003. Fetko has dedicated herself to educating other parents about medicine abuse. She has spoken to countless parents and teens in classrooms across the country and even shared her personal story by testifying in front of Congress. In her newest role as a member of the Five Moms campaign, Fetko says she feels a renewed sense of energy and focus in her mission to ensure parents have the information that she did not.

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