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What You Need to Know About OTC Drugs

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Over the counter drugs

Frequently misused and abused drugs that are often forgotten about are over-the-counter medications.  Over-the-counter medications do not require a prescription and include cold, allergy and cough medications that we are able purchase from any pharmacy.**  Some over-the-counter medications do have the potential for misuse when taken at a higher than recommended dose, when taken to get high, or when mixed with other medications or drugs.

What over-the-counter medications should you be aware and wary of?  The most commonly misused ones are Dextromethorphan (DXM) and Loperamide.

  • DXM is a cough suppressant that is found in cough syrup, tablets, and capsules.  When misused, DXM is often taken in combination with other drugs and can cause a depressant or hallucinogenic effect on the individual.  Misusing DXM can lead to poor motor control, lack of energy, stomach pain, vomiting, vision changes, slurred speech, increased blood pressure, sweating, and even liver damage if the product contains acetaminophen.
  • Loperamide is an anti-diarrheal that comes in either a liquid, tablet, or capsule form.  When taken in large doses and mixed with other substances it can have a similar effect to those produced by prescription opioids or heroin.  Misuse of Loperamide can lead to fainting, stomach pain, loss of consciousness, erratic and rapid heartbeats, kidney problems, and eye changes.

It’s important to know that it is possible to become addicted and even overdose on over-the-counter medications.  When taken in large quantities both DXM and Loperamide can slow or stop an individual’s breathing, which can lead to permanent brain damage or death.  If an overdose does occur, call 911 immediately.

To help prevent over-the-counter medication misuse, speak with your children about the risks and consequences of medication misuse and abuse.  Encourage your children to come to you with any questions or concerns and be on the lookout for commonly misused medication or changes in your child’s behavior.  For more information on over-the-counter medications please visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse here.

** In Arizona, you must be at least 18 years of age to purchase products containing DXM.