Know The Risks Hiding In Your Medicine Cabinet

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Medicine cabinet risksWe all stock our medicine cabinet with what we think we’ll need when we get sick, but we tend to forget that over-the-counter medications can be risky in themselves. Not only for babies and young children, but also for teens. That’s why Florida became the 10th state in the nation to ban the sale of dextromethorphan to minors with a new law that went into effect in January. The effort is aimed at reducing the number of kids who get high on the drug, present in over 100 cough and cold relief products in the U.S.

This is no small feat. More than 40 percent of teens who admit to abusing or misusing drugs say they got them from their home medicine cabinet, according to a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

By partnering with Baptist Health South Florida, I’m learning what to do as a parent to restrict kids’ access to this and other potentially dangerous medicines, like cough syrups.

“We do see side effects from cough and cold preparations that are widely available over the counter,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., medical director of the emergency department at Baptist Children’s Hospital. “Pre-teens are experimenting more often with risky behaviors.”

Be careful with cough and cold medicines

Keep in mind that due to potential side effects, cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under 4 by the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The doctors’ organization is considering raising the recommendation against their use to children under age 6, Dr. Mendoza said.

Also, experts urge parents to seek advice from their doctor if cough or cold symptoms worsen or if there is any sign of difficulty breathing, dehydration or persistent high fevers. Dr. Mendoza says that if it is just a typical cold, in most cases the symptoms will resolve themselves with a little time and some rest. He also recommends using natural remedies such as honey with older children.

“Parents may be influenced by direct-to-consumer advertising, which can depict these over-the-counter medications as effective and otherwise harmless,” he said. “But the desire for symptomatic relief can come at a cost, with unexpected side effects.”

A good rule of thumb is to store any medications, over-the-counter or not, in a locked medicine cabinet or out of our children’s reach. Also, monitor your teen’s behavior. If you see any changes, it might be a sign that something’s going on.

Cough Medicine Specifics

Although the new Florida law restricts the sale of dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, the drug is not banned. And that means families will continue to have it in their medicine cabinets. In fact, most families probably have some products containing DXM at home right now, considering it is the most widely used cough suppressant in the United States, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.  Dextromethorphan can be found in Robitussin, Dimetapp, Dayquil, Nyquil, Triaminic, Vicks Formula 44, Comtrex, Contact, Theraflu, Mucinex, Pediacare — and many others. It is in not only in cough syrups and cold liquids, but also in tablets and gel-caps.

The drug is considered safe at recommended doses, but preteens and teens have been known to consume hundreds of times the recommended dose in search of a high. DXM can cause heart or nervous system damage, according to the Florida Poison Control Center. The effects worsen as the dose increases. The danger also increases if the product consumed is a multi-symptom remedy that contains additional active ingredients, or if it is combined with alcohol.

“Just because it is easily available does not mean it is safe,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Learn more by checking out Baptist Health South Florida’s blog here.

Disclosure: this post is part of a sponsored collaboration with Baptist Health South Florida but all opinions are my own.

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