We are coming out of cold and flu season and chances are you may have some cough medicine and other over-the-counter drugs around the house. It’s hard to believe, but did you know that cough medicines can be abused by teens? A recent survey of 45,000 teens by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan reports that about 5 percent of teens abused over-the-counter cough medicines. But instead of panicking and tossing out your cough medicine, consider this a teaching moment. It really is a great opportunity to sit down with your kids and talk to them about the risks of experimenting with drugs, how to handle peer pressure, and the benefits of healthy choices.

StopMedicineAbuse.orgOne helpful resource is StopMedicineAbuse.org, a website founded by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association that provides a range of resources from research data on drug abuse to recommended conversation starters to guide you when you talk to your teen. The site includes blogs from “The Five Moms,’’ a group of women from different backgrounds who provide important perspectives on the dangers of medicine abuse. The site points out that medicines with the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) are completely safe when appropriate dosages are taken. However, when large quantities of DXM are consumed—some teens reported taking 25 times the recommended amount—it can cause a “high,” but also can result in nausea and vomiting, dizziness, double vision, rapid heartbeat, and disorientation.

Having the conversation is worth it. StopMedicineAbuse.org reports that teens who learn from their parents about drug risks are 50 percent less likely to abuse medicines. The site gives you tips on how to safely keep medicine in your house. For example, it’s good to establish habits of storing all medicines—even vitamins—on high shelves and away from children.

StopMedicineAbuse.org also provides information on what to look for if you suspect drug or medicine abuse in your home, how to monitor your child’s activities, and how to get help and support for your family.

Finally, it also stresses the importance of not putting off the conversation with your child about the dangers of medicine abuse and the importance of respecting medicines. Even early elementary-age children can be made aware of the seriousness of medicine and should be taught not to take medicine if a responsible caregiver isn’t present.