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August 26, 2007
EDITORIAL: Teens' drugs of choice are right at home

Special to the Everett Herald
By Rob McKenna

A troubling trend is affecting teens in Washington and around the country -- a trend that most parents do not even know about. More and more young people are abusing prescription drugs and over-the-counter cough medicines in surprising numbers, not realizing that seeking that next "high" could bring them and their families to a new low.

Recent data on drug trends in this country show that teens see abusing prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines as safer than street drugs. In fact, nationwide, teen abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise while the use of street drugs, such as heroin or marijuana, is declining.

Kids are turning to their parents' medicine cabinets as alternatives to illicit drug abuse. According to the National Institutes of Health annual Monitoring the Future study last winter, one in every 14 high school seniors reported abusing cough medicines fairly recently. Additional data from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America indicate that one in 10 teenagers report having abused cough medicines. These teens are intentionally taking large amounts -- sometimes up to 50 times the recommended dose -- of cough medicine to get "high" from the active ingredient dextromethorphan -- a risk that can hold potentially devastating consequences.

Dextromethorphan is a psychedelic that is sometimes used as a recreational drug. However, the medication also includes acetaminophen, which can cause liver toxicity when taken in large amounts. Two Bellingham boys died in April 2006 with lethal amounts of dextromethorphan in their systems. Food and Drug Administration investigations showed the teens had ordered the drug over the Internet in January 2005. In 2004, five Lynnwood teens were hospitalized for an apparent drug overdose of dextromethorphan. According to news stories, the students acknowledged that they had ingested high quantities of the medication after questioning by their teacher.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have introduced legislation that calls upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the sale of unfinished dextromethorphan. While dextromethorphan has a therapeutic and legitimate purpose when used appropriately -- it is a safe and effective ingredient found in more than 100 over-the-counter cough medicines that families have relied on for decades -- teens are abusing it by taking it in extremely large quantities.

The U.S. Senate's designation of August 2007 as "National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month" could not come at a more critical time to protect Washington's teens. As part of National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, I urge you to join the fight against cough medicine abuse by talking to your kids. Parents who talk to their kids about any kind of alcohol or drug abuse are single-handedly the most effective tool we have to prevent this behavior.

In supporting this effort, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the makers of over-the-counter cough medicine, and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America are recommending that parents:

  • Educate themselves and their children on the issue of medicine abuse.
  • Communicate the dangers of medicine abuse.
  • Safeguard their own medicine cabinets to prevent their kids, and possibly their kids' friends, from accessing these medicines.

Cough medicine abuse is preventable. Parents need to know about this problem -- and right now, most of them don't. I urge parents to make a commitment to learn more about medicine abuse and work with concerned parents throughout the country to reverse this dangerous trend.

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