changing the world one dad at a time

A dark night, a loud party, a big bottle of … cough syrup? Let’s Stop Medicine Abuse


October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. The key is education. For instance: Learn how teens abuse cough medicine, and talk to you kids about why that's dangerous.

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. The key is education. Learn how teens abuse cough medicine, how to spot signs of OTC medicine abuse, and how to talk to your kids about why it’s dangerous. Image: Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

I remember the kid, even though it was a long time ago. We went to the same high school, although I wouldn’t call him a friend.

He was someone I knew. He was at the party, or on the outskirts of the party, and I saw him leaning against his car with a small paper bag in his hand.

It was dark. It was loud. Kids wandered up and down the road, in and out of streetlight glare, partying for all they were worth before somebody got sick of the noise and the haphazard traffic in that usually quiet neighborhood and called the cops.

I got there after a late shift at the fast food joint and walked up alone. I saw my high school classmate, the first familiar face in the dark. I said hello and asked him what he had in the bag.

He pulled out a small, dark brown bottle and held it out to me.

“Want some?” he asked.

I looked closer in the dark at the bottle he offered, expecting … well, what would you expect? Beer, maybe. Whiskey, possibly. This being the ’80s, I would not have been surprised to see a lukewarm berry wine cooler.

I remember that kid. I remember his face from around school, and I remember how he looked when he handed me that small, dark brown bottle. There was a goofy grin, blank eyes. He slurred his words: “Wan’ shum?”

Then I read the label on the bottle: cough syrup.

Wait. What?

For an instant, I thought he was kidding. Then, I thought he had a cough and was just so drunk he was confused and gave me his medicine.

All I could think to say was, “Cough syrup?”

This was a long time ago. They didn’t have a National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month yet. If they had, maybe I would’ve known that “robo-tripping” was a thing.

My classmate knew it. His answer to my question was to laugh and take the bottle back.

He twisted off the white cap and brought the bottle to his lips. He slugged it all down in one long gulp.

Dude. What the … ?

I came of age in South Florida in the 1980s. Illicit drugs were everywhere. Underage drinking was commonplace. I didn’t smoke pot or use anything else, but I went to school with people who did.

So, weed or beer or something worse would not have caught me off guard at that party.

Cough syrup was … unexpected.

He said it was the best buzz EVER. He said there was no danger. He said it wore off quick. He said he liked to chug a beer, then slam a bottle of medicine, then pound another beer.

I can’t speak to the quality or duration of the buzz, because I passed. At the time, it struck me as stupid for a kid to think there would be no danger from drinking an entire bottle of cough syrup in one gulp.

It WAS stupid. What that kid didn’t know could have caused him serious harm.

The Stop Medicine Abuse Campaign fights year-round to end the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, and they have the research to support their cause.

Awareness is a big priority, which is why they are major movers in National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. That happens to be this month, October, and Dads 4 Change is proud to help spread the word.

I wish I had been more aware back when that classmate of mine offered me a casual bottle for a “robo-trip” that night long ago. I would have told him that, yes, there are potentially dangerous side effects if medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM) are consumed in amounts beyond the recommended dosage, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired physical coordination
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Drowsiness
  • Numbness of fingers and toes
  • Disorientation

Abuse of OTC medicine with DXM can lead to cardiovascular complications, potentially fatal liver injury, and other major health problems.

Today, one in 30 teens abuse OTC medicine. There are more than 100 OTC medications that contain DXM which, as mentioned, is generally safe when used as recommended.

The folks from the Consumer Healthcare Product Association’s Stop Medicine Abuse Campaign have been on top of this for a while now. The goal is, of course, to keep kids from abusing OTC medication, but it also is about raising awareness among parents.

This blog post from a few years ago remains relevant: What to do if you suspect your teen is abusing OTC medicine. The following bullet list is pulled directly from that post, but it’s well worth your time to go check out the whole article.

Warning Signs for OTC Abuse

  • Empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in the trash of your child’s room or in your child’s backpack or school locker
  • Purchase or use of large amounts of cough medicine when not ill
  • Missing boxes or bottles of medicine from home medicine cabinets
  • Hearing your child use certain slang terms for DXM abuse, such as skittles, skittling, tussin, robo-tripping, robo, CCC, triple Cs, dexing and DXM
  • Visiting pro-drug websites that provide information on how to abuse DXM
  • Internet orders, the arrival of unexpected packages or unexplained payments by credit card or PayPal account
  • Changes in friends, physical appearance or sleeping or eating patterns
  • Declining grades
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Hostile and uncooperative attitude
  • Unexplained disappearance of household money
  • Unusual chemical or medicinal smells on your child or in his or her room.

The Stop Medicine Abuse Campaign also urges parents to keep an eye out for the PARENTS label on cough and cold medicine this flu season. Here’s what it looks like:

Look for the PARENTS icon on cold and cough medicine this flu season. Check out the campaign's website at for more information.

Look for the PARENTS icon on cold and cough medicine this flu season. Check out the campaign’s website at for more information.

That kid I knew? I don’t remember what became of him. I saw him around school, and he was friendly enough. After that party, I always thought of him as the weird dude who pounded cold medicine to get buzzed.

And when I sat down to write about National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, naturally my thoughts drifted back to that night a long time ago. How long ago? Thirty years, at least. This is not new. The work goes on.

It starts with a conversation with our kids. I had one this month. Our boys are old enough to start to learn, and thanks to the Stop Medicine Abuse Campaign, I know enough now to help them do just that.

Disclosure: Dads4Change has partnered with the Consumer Healthcare Product Association’s Stop Medicine Abuse Campaign to help cast a spotlight on National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month and the dangers of abusing over-the-counter medicine. We were compensated for this post, but the story and opinions are ours.


Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On Linkedin