National Survey Shows Slight Increase in Teen Abuse of OTC Cough Medicine

Survey results show rise in abuse rates among eighth graders
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Press Releases and Statements | Dec 15, 2020

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — The results of the 2020 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey shows 3.7 percent of teens reported using over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high, an increase from 2.8 percent in 2019. While overall rates remain low, NIDA’s survey release notes that use among eighth graders, “has gradually increased over the past five years, from 1.6% in 2015 to 4.6% in 2020, its highest rate since 2006.”

“This year’s survey results underscore the importance of industry’s commitment to preventing teen OTC cough medicine abuse,” said Scott Melville, President and CEO, Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA). “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is causing immense stress on families and teens. In this environment, we must remain vigilant and CHPA is committed to working with our national partners who are on the front lines, leading the fight against teen substance use.”

For years, CHPA has worked to help reduce teen DXM abuse by employing three strategies: increasing parent education and engagement in abuse awareness and prevention; heightening teen perceptions of the risks and social disapproval of medicine abuse; and, limiting teen access to DXM through age-18 sales restrictions in states.

“We are concerned to see an increased use of several substances — ranging from amphetamine to over-the-counter cough medicine — among eighth graders,” said Marcia Lee Taylor, Chief External and Government Relations Officer at Partnership to End Addiction. “Educating each new group of middle schoolers about the risks associated with these substances is critical. We also must do a better job empowering parents to have open and honest discussions about substance use with their kids.”

In 2008, CHPA member companies took a major step in preventing abuse by voluntarily placing an icon on the packaging of OTC DXM products, encouraging parents to learn more about teen medicine abuse by visiting StopMedicineAbuse.org.

Additionally, CHPA collaborates with Partnership to End Addiction (formerly known as Partnership for Drug-Free Kids) to target teens likely to abuse DXM based on their online search activity and provide them accurate information about the consequences of this behavior. Teens are directed to visit WhatIsDXM.com to learn more.

CHPA has also worked with state lawmakers across the country to address the issue of teen DXM abuse with age-restriction laws. Today, 20 states have such laws in place, helping to prevent potential teen DXM use, while ensuring continued access for the millions of families who use these medicines responsibly.

“Given that this year’s data was collected before widespread shutdowns due to the pandemic, we’re encouraged that NIDA and the University of Michigan will begin next year’s survey early in 2021 to accurately gauge the impact of COVID-19 on teen substance use,” Melville continued. “The data released today reinforce the need to remain diligent and continue a multipronged approach to dissuade misuse of this important OTC medicine, something our industry is very much committed to.”

Please visit StopMedicineAbuse.org for more information about teen DXM abuse, retailer education materials, and other helpful resources for parents and community leaders.

Founded in 1881, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) is the national trade association representing the leading manufacturers and marketers of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, dietary supplements, and consumer medical devices. Every dollar spent by consumers on OTC medicines saves the U.S. healthcare system more than $7, contributing a total of $146 billion in savings each year. CHPA is committed to empowering consumer self-care by preserving and expanding choice and availability of consumer healthcare products. www.chpa.org