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The Drug Talk Tweens Need to Hear: Over-the-Counter Meds

The Short of It

When talking to your tween about drug abuse, don't forget to mention the over-the-counter medicines in your bathroom cabinet. The New Haven Register reports that several national studies of parents and sixth-graders found that both parents and teens aren't very knowledgeable about these drugs.

The Lowdown

The national surveys show that kids don't realize OTC medicines can be unsafe when mixed with other drugs or taken improperly. Parents assume school health classes are teaching them what they need to know and they admit they're not sure their kids could understand the drug facts printed on package labels.

Schools simply aren't giving over-the-counter medicines the attention they deserve in their lessons about abusing drugs and how to use medications correctly.

"Based on many high school health curricula, students entering college have had very little classroom instruction regarding OTC medications," said Joy Greene, assistant dean of experiential education and a pharmacy professor at High Point University in High Point, N.C.

Greene says much of what kids know about OTC drugs comes from the media, advertisements and talking to other people—not the instructions or warnings found on product packaging. She says parents should teach their tweens:

  • what specific over-the-counter medicines do and what they treat.
  • what side effects to watch for.
  • how to take proper dosages and explain that some medicines can't be mixed with other drugs or vitamins.
  • these drugs can also become addictive and abused if taken improperly.

For teachers who want to try integrating more information about OTC medications safety into their curriculum, Scholastic Inc. has partnered with the American Association of Poison Control Centers to offer free educational materials geared at fifth- and sixth-graders.

Jon Sundt in San Diego, Calif., lost his two younger brothers to drugs and alcohol, which led him to found Natural High, a non-profit that hopes to educate teens and parents about the dangers of OTC medicines and other controlled substances. His organization also offers learning materials to schools.

"Over-the-counter drugs are one of the most commonly misused drugs among Americans 14 and older," Sundt said. "Over 50 percent of teens believe that OTC drugs are much safer than illegal drugs: the same teens entering the world of adulthood and self-care as we speak."

The Upshot

Warning kids about illegal street drugs is no longer enough. Talking about what you keep in your home—and assume is safe—is the new drug talk you need to have with your kids ASAP because it's a bigger issue than you may think. Not too long ago, my best friend's middle-school-age daughter told her about parties where kids mixed various pills found in the bathroom cabinet in a bowl, and then party-goers took several pills at once to "feel high" without using illegal drugs.

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