Over-the-counter medications abused by teenagers

by 86th Mission Support Group

An ingredient in more than 140 cough and cold medications, dextromethorphan, or DXM, is a safe and highly effective cough suppressant; however when ingested in excessive amounts, DXM produces physiological effects that include hallucinations, feelings of detachment from surroundings and self, loss of motor control, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat and vomiting.

The significance of over-the-counter medication abuse has been highlighted locally through recent incidents where adolescents were found to have consumed large amounts of OTC drugs containing DXM.

Risks to abusers are increased because medications that contain DXM also have expectorants, pain relievers, and antihistamines.  Overdoses of these ingredients can produce additional side effects such as liver damage, coma, and death.


With prolonged abuse users may become paranoid, delusional, and psychotic. These effects can remain weeks after the discontinuation of the medication. 

Parents and guardians need to play an active role in stemming this health risk. Although the Army and Air Force Exchange Services and Defense Commissary Agency have taken measures to prevent minors having access to OTC drugs containing DXM, these types of medications are still readily available on the economy.

Adolescents are the primary abusers of OTC medications, because they are inexpensive, relatively easy to obtain, and are perceived to carry few risks.

For more information contact your school’s Adolescent Substance Abuse Counseling Services personnel or visit web-sites such as www.kidshealth.org or www.drugfree.org.

Unused or expired medications can be disposed of at the Ramstein Clinic Pharmacy during normal duty hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, or in the Outpatient Pharmacy at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.