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Parent, community alert: New over-the-counter drug abuse trend puts teens at risk

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[September 07, 2010]  The Logan County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force urges the community to take action against teen over-the-counter drug abuse. Although alcohol and tobacco use continue to have a devastating affect on our youth, a new and alarming trend among teens is creeping across America, affecting communities like ours everywhere. There are code names for it: Skittles, Robo, Triple Cs, Dex, Tussin and Vitamin D, to mention a few. It is the practice of getting high by taking excessive doses of over-the-counter cough medications.

InsuranceThese are the same remedies that we commonly stock in our medicine cabinets and are readily available in drugstores and supermarkets everywhere. The "high" is caused by dextromethorphan, known familiarly as DXM, and is an active ingredient in more than 100 nonprescription cough syrups, tablets and gel caps like Dimetapp DM, Robitussin, Sudafed and Vicks 44. A normal dose of cough medicine is 15-30 milligrams. Remarkably, kids are sometimes ingesting 25-50 times the recommended doses in an attempt to get high.

DXM, when used as directed, has a long history of being safe and effective. However, when taken in large doses, it can produce a hallucinogenic high, along with dangerous side effects, caused by the DXM itself or other active ingredients in the medicine. Among them are stomach pain and heart problems, as well as delusions, depression, high blood pressure, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, numbness, rashes, and seizures.

Certainly as a community, we want to ensure that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines containing DXM remain accessible to those who need them. However, the potential for abuse among youth demands our immediate attention. Toward that end, the Logan County ATOD Task Force, a coalition comprised of local organizations and concerned individuals, is working to educate parents, youth and the community on abuse of over-the-counter drugs.

Authorities tell us that DXM overdoses typically occur in clusters, as word about the "high" spreads in a community's middle and high schools. According to a recent study, it's estimated that one out of 10 people age 12 to 17 -- that's 2.4 million kids from all backgrounds and geographic areas -- say that they have taken cough remedies to get high.

In our community alone, the Logan County 2008 Illinois Youth Survey showed that 18 percent of eighth-graders said they had used over-the-counter drugs for a nonmedical purpose at least once in the past 12 months.

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It is vital that adults, particularly parents, be aware of the possible signs of abuse.

It should raise a red flag if... your child makes frequent purchases of over-the-counter cough preparations from the same or different stores, or from the Internet (for example, note the arrival of unexpected packages); hides cough medicine bottles in his or her bedroom; is exhibiting odd behavior; has declining grades; has a loss of interest in friends and activities; or is experiencing hallucinations or any of the side effects mentioned above.

Be vigilant about your medicine cabinets. Know what's in there, keep track of your medicines, and discard over-the-counter and prescription medications that you don't need.

If you suspect a problem, immediately contact a local substance abuse prevention and intervention professional, such as your pediatrician or family doctor.

The time to educate and act is now. Everything depends on it, for while our children make up only 25 percent of our national population, they represent 100 percent of our future.

If you are interested in joining in the effort or want more information, please contact Kristi Lessen, director of the Healthy Communities Partnership, at 217-732-5066 or come to a monthly Logan County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force meeting. The group meets at noon on the second Friday of the month at the Logan County Department of Public Health.

[By CAMILLE SPRINGER, Logan County community prevention coordinator and Logan County ATOD Task Force member]

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