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Please welcome Peggy McKibben to Uncharted Parent. Peggy is a high school nurse, a mother of two and one of the Five Moms at Peggy takes a proactive approach to keeping teens healthy, which includes educating them and their parents about over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription (Rx) drug abuse.

What? Don’t I have enough to worry about with the current heroin epidemic, ramped-up illegal drugs and the omnipresent dangers of alcohol?

Unfortunately, kids may abuse OTC and Rx drugs, too, and access to those medicines may be as simple as opening the cabinet in the bathroom or dropping by the corner pharmacy. But if you arm yourself with information, you’ll be in a better position to educate your teens about the dangers of medicine abuse before they’re tempted to experiment or friends try to persuade them to do so. Below, Peggy offers several tips for helping to prevent medicine abuse by teens.


With the fall season in full swing, October has given way to sweaters, pumpkin everything and multicolored leaves. But here’s something about October you may not know: it’s National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. Take the time this month to learn about the prevalence of medicine abuse and how to prevent medicine misuse by your preteen or teen.

Medicine abuse may not be as common as other types of drug abuse, but it still occurs and should be a topic of conversation between parents and teens when they talk about risky behaviors like illegal drug and alcohol use. Don’t get trapped in the “not my teen” mentality. Even if your teen hasn’t abused over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, there’s a chance that he or she knows someone who has, given that one in three teens know someone who has abused OTC cough medicine to get high.

A 2014 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that approximately one in 30 American teens reported intentionally abusing OTC cough medicine to get high. Additionally, the research explored OTC cough medicine abuse by age and found that 2.0% of eighth graders and 4.1% of high school seniors had abused OTC cough medicine.

So, how can you prevent teen medicine abuse? These six tips can help:

Get educated: Education is the key to preventing medicine abuse. In order to effectively share the right information with your teen about the dangers of medicine abuse, you must first yourself understand the negative side effects of medicine misuse. Parents have the power to correct misconceptions about OTC cough medicine abuse, like the mindset among some teens that that medicine abuse is less dangerous than illegal drug use.

Pay attention: Have you noticed anything different with your teen? Has he or she had a recent change in personality or friend group? By paying attention to your teen’s habits and behaviors, you can take note if there are any warning signs of medicine abuse.

Check your shelf: Ease of accessibility can play a role in teens abusing OTC medicine. In fact, about 64% of parents say that the medicine cabinets in their home can be accessed by anyone. Take a proactive approach in monitoring your medicine cabinets by being aware of how many medicines you have, the quantity of each and if you notice anything missing without an explanation.

Dispose of medicines: While it’s important to be aware of the medicines you have in your home, it’s just as important to dispose of expired or unused medicines safely and properly. Keep an eye out for community medicine take-back events or look up a collection site in your area. Follow this FDA guide for tips on how to properly dispose of medicines at home.

Communicate openly: Foster an open, trusting parent-teen relationship. While this may be easier said than done, the more you do to make your teen feel comfortable talking to you, the more he or she will open up and share with you. In fact, teens who have a conversation with their parents about the risks of drug use are 50% less likely to abuse drugs themselves.

Raise awareness: Start talking to fellow parents and members of your community about OTC medicine abuse. Every member of the community can play a role in preventing and ending medicine abuse. There are many resources available that make sharing this information easy.

Parents have more influence in their teens’ lives than they think. Teens look to parents as a go-to source of knowledge on many topics. If you’re armed with the right information about high-risk behaviors like medicine abuse, you can educate and help your teen make positive choices.


Peggy McKibbin

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Peggy is a mother of two and a high school nurse with a passion for promoting good health among teens. As one of The Five Moms for the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign and through her involvement with the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), Peggy works to educate her students and her community on the dangers of medicine abuse. Join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.

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