"Inside the Teen Brain: Is There an App for That?" Stop Medicine Abuse Forum in Washington, DC #StopMedAbuse

Disclosure: This blog post is sponsored by the CHPA's Stop Medicine Abuse educational program. I was compensated to attend the event (or participate online) but all opinions here are my own.

"I'll just need your driver's license," asked the cashier behind the counter at the local pharmacy. This was after I had been browsing each aisle like a mad-woman, all while coughing up what felt like my entire insides. A terrible cold had finally caught up with me. But, I was determine to win this temporary battle by taking a simple over-the-counter cough medicine. As a Mom, I can rarely afford to be "down". This would have to do for now. So, I was directed to the register to retrieve my item. Cough syrup was now being housed behind the counter.

"I'm sorry. I don't understand. You need my driver's license in order for me to purchase cough medicine? That's weird!" I scratched my head, searched through my wallet for my identification, then handed it over reluctantly. Either I was extremely exhausted and making this all up in my head, or, I was completely out-of-the-loop over new rules surrounding the purchase of cough medicine.

As it turns out, it was the latter.

"Yeah. We have to make sure the person buying the cough medicine is not a minor and is eighteen or older. It's a new thing now; teens are using it to get high. So, we have to treat the sale of cough medicine like buying cigarettes. It's a safety thing. Sorry for the inconvenience, ma'am."

And just like that, I was schooled. I was shocked to find out that this was a new trend among teens. I was too busy worrying about how long my son had been gaming to even consider this as an issue. Of course, this was a few years ago, at a time when my oldest son was much younger and the concern over cough medicine abuse was irrelevant to our family. But, I knew that eventually my son would reach the age where peer pressure who rear its ugly head and present undesirable scenarios in his life. I had so much to learn about this topic. So, I did.

About a month ago, I attended a forum in Washington, DC titled, "Inside the Teen Brain: Is There An App for That?". It was the perfect introduction to October's National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month and promotion of prevention efforts by organizations such as Consumer Healthcare Products Association's (CHPA) Stop Medicine Abuse, Community Anti-Drug Coalition Institute (CADA) , Tribal Worldwide and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. For a parent such as myself who just knew the surface of the problem but wanted to dig deeper, I was rather impressed with the information that was presented by the panelists, especially Childhood and Adolescent Therapist, Darby Fox. Here is what you need to know to join the fight in preventing OTC cough medicine abuse:

First, what is being abused? It will be quite hard to prevent the abuse if you do not recognize the product. I was surprised to learn that teens are using simple over-the-counter cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient that is found in most OTC cough medicines and is safe when used correctly to reduce coughs. When taken in excess, like up to 25 times more than the recommended dosage as reported by some teens, DXM has the ability to intoxicate. Several side effects include nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, lack of motor control and distortions. Startling statistic from various studies suggest that "1 in 30 teens have abused cough medicine to get high, and one in 3 teens in grades 9-12 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high".

So, how did this become a "thing" and where are teens getting their information from to participate in such abuse? If you take a look at this infographic, you can see that one of the main sources of information in the Internet and other teens. We all know that the answer to just about any question is at the tip of our fingertips. With the abundance of computer and smartphone access, a quick online search can produce results that fuel the start of cough medicine abuse. That is why it is important to constantly monitor the activity of your child's online usage.

Look for keyword searches like, "What is it like?" and "How do I do it?" when pertaining to DXM, especially around back-to-school time and the return from breaks for the holiday in January and February. Be sure to check all social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube where teens are more likely to "open up more" than they would with their parent(s). **As a blogger, I have a slight advantage because I am constantly online and able to see most of my teen's interactions.**

Even more accessible to teens are the people that they see on daily basis. Friends and peers are the most influential when it comes to both positive and negative decision-making. As listed on number three of the picture to the right, "teens are almost 3 times as likely to trust their friends as a source of information than their family (even their siblings)". This adds to the point that you should always know the people that your child is hanging with because they may become the company that they keep.

Curiosity will often lead to discovery. A teen will go online if they know a friend or have heard about DXM abuse in the news. As a parent, just make sure that your curiosity about your child's online activity is stronger than their desire to attempt this act.

What do you do if you suspect your teen may be abusing cough medicine or has made inquiries about DXM usage? Well, the first step is to have a conversation. This is something that should be taking place on a regular basis anyway. Talking to your teen may be the best form of prevention for most of the problems they face in their adolescence. In case you didn't know, we are all owners of a Ferrari – a teen with no brakes. It is up to us to provide boundaries to slow them down.
In approaching your teen to talk about this topic, remember to lose all judgement. Talk with your teen and not at them. Natural, non-lecturing, non-distracting moments are the best time to start the conversation. I am proud to say that I have been talking to my oldest son about drugs for years. We created a fake scenario of someone asking him to use drugs and played our respective roles. We laugh about our little skit now that he's older. But, it has stuck with him. I always find a clever way to talk to him about what is going on at school without being too obvious. Tactics will vary based on your teen because they are individuals who have to be engaged differently. Just remember:
Sometimes we have to get on the level of the teen. What better way to do this than through an app created by DXM Labworks? It is available for free on iTunes and for Android. The premise of the game is for users to get a virtual idea of what abusing cough medicine looks like without actually trying it (thank goodness). There are also other great resources on WhatisDXM.com. Just to make a note, this site has been visited by teens one million times and the app has been downloaded almost 300,000 times. The impact is there.
Continued efforts to prevent cough medicine abuse appear to be showing some positive results. For instance, only 26% of teens agree strongly that taking cough medicine to get high is the cool kids thing to do. That is down from the 29% that was recorded in 2011. Also, teens who thought that it was easy to obtain DXM was at 65% in 2010. Since then, the number has gone down to 41%. This shows a few steps in the right direction. A decrease in abuse is always a great motivator to keep the conversation going. Also, continue to provide empowerment opportunities for our youth:

If after reading this post you are still unsure about the who, what, where, why and how of this subject, do not lose hope. Visit the great resource such as StopMedAbuse.org so that we can all tackle this problem together. It takes a village!

Follow @StopMedAbuse on Twitter (#StopMedAbuse)
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Disclosure Information
This blog post is sponsored by the CHPA's Stop Medicine Abuse educational program. I was compensated to attend the event (or participate online) but all opinions here are my own. 
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