Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a safe and effective ingredient found in over 100 over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products. First approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the 1950s, it is an effective, non-narcotic cough suppressant that works by raising the coughing threshold in the brain; it has no pain-relieving properties and is not addictive. While millions of Americans use dextromethorphan safely each year to relieve cough symptoms due to the common cold or flu, parents should be aware that some teenagers and young adults intentionally abuse large amounts of medicines containing DXM to get high.
The leading makers of OTC cough medicines have engaged in educational efforts to curb abuse for a number of years. In 2009, these efforts were combined into one comprehensive website: StopMedicineAbuse.org. This website provides access to all the industry’s initiatives and interactive programs to engage parents and community leaders in the fight against teen cough medicine abuse. StopMedicineAbuse.org also has an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread the word about the abuse of cough medicines.
These industry-led programs appear to be making headway in the fight. Data released in December 2012 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA’s) Monitoring the Future survey show that nearly 5 percent of teens admit to abusing cough medicines to get high.
The Partnership at Drugfree.org
The nonprescription medicine industry teamed up with experts at The Partnership at Drugfree.org (the Partnership) to combat the problem. CHPA and the Partnership began an ongoing initiative in 2003 to ensure that adults with influence and oversight over young people are aware that teens may be considering abusing DXM. Together, CHPA and the Partnership launched a multi-year, communications campaign designed to help parents and families understand and prevent the abuse of medicines, including cough medicines containing DXM, by teenagers and young adults. The two organizations have also launched a digital and social media-based prevention initiative targeting those teens who are actively involved in searching online for information on how to abuse DXM.
Elements of the campaign include:
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America
CHPA also has joined forces with the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) to develop an educational community toolkit to help coalition and prevention leaders mobilize their communities and educate key stakeholders about the dangers of OTC cough medicine abuse. CADCA represents over 5,000 community coalitions nationwide. Additionally, CHPA and CADCA have supported the designation of "National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month." This initiative highlights one month a year to provide an opportunity for parents to educate themselves and to talk to their teens about the dangers associated with medicine abuse. Dovetailing this effort, CHPA and CADCA publish a teen brochure, The Real Truth About Rx and OTC Medicine Abuse, and host town hall meetings nationwide with local CADCA affiliates. States interested in hosting their own town hall meeting have access to all materials in the toolkit.
Five Moms: Stopping Cough Medicine Abuse
In May 2007, CHPA launched "Five Moms: Stopping Cough Medicine Abuse," an online grassroots campaign to help parents fight teen medicine abuse. At the heart of the Five Moms Campaign are five exceptional women, from different walks of life and from all across the country, who are all dedicated to spreading the word about the dangers of cough medicine abuse. The campaign reaches millions of parents each year, via its StopMedicineAbuse.org website and Five Moms blog, and via its @StopMedAbuse Twitter Feed and Stop Medicine Abuse Facebook community.
D.A.R.E. America and CHPA teamed up with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Abbott Laboratories to launch specialized lessons for fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-graders that counter the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. For more information about the innovative program, visit D.A.R.E. America online.
National Association of School Nurses
In 2010, CHPA teamed up with the National Association of School Nurses to launch Home to Homeroom, an educational program that teams parents with the medical expert in their teen’s school—the school nurse—to help prevent and address teen medicine abuse.
Home to Homeroom provides parents with advice and tools on how to integrate medicine abuse into regular drug talks with teens, how to keep the dialogue going, and how to find resources to support at-risk teens. Found at StopMedicineAbuse.org, the campaign features a toolkit for school nurses, downloadable materials, and frequent digests posted on the website.
CHPA sponsors a collaborative educational destination with WebMD to bring information and tips on spotting cough medicine abuse.
Additionally, CHPA reaches out to a variety of organizations, including parent groups, education associations, health professional societies, law enforcement, the retail community, pharmacists, and others to raise awareness on the issue.