Substance abuse is a disease which doesn't go away overnight. I'm working hard to overcome it. I did fail my recent drug test. I'm prepared to face the consequences - Lindsay Lohan
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Looking in your medicine cabinet at home, what would you find? Most likely a bottle of Tylenol, perhaps some ibuprofen. Maybe antihistamines, such as Benadryl, and medications to treat common stomach ailments such as Maalox, Pepto-Bismol, or antacids. Of course, this time of year it’s likely you’ll also have that “nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest medicine” too. We certainly want to be prepared anytime our symptoms warrant a need for many types of over-the-counter medications. But what about everyone in your home, are they using these medications for their intended use? Could they be misusing them, or even worse…abusing them?
When we think drug abuse, our minds might gravitate to powdery white lines or bulging veins anticipating a needle. When we think about drug abuse, perhaps we conjure up images of marijuana joints or stealing prescription pills from a relative. But when you think about drug abuse, do you also see someone spending half their day driving to every pharmacy in town purchasing as much cough medicine as they can? When you think drug abuse, is it someone inconspicuously tossing a few large quantity bottles of generic Benadryl pills into their cart at your favorite “warehouse” type store? No...That’s okay, you’re not alone.
Drug abuse isn’t confined to illicit or prescription drugs. Your very own medicine cabinet can be the gateway for abuse and not even know it. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are actually safe, when taken as directed, and for their intended purpose. However, taking several times the recommended dose of OTC meds can yield far different results and for those who know this, will seek these medications to achieve a preferred high. So, let’s peer back into that medicine cabinet and look at it differently.
An active ingredient in over 100 OTC cough medicines (such as NyQuil and Robitussin), dextromethorphan is a commonly abused drugs obtained without a prescription. When taken in very large doses, dextromethorphan can cause euphoria, hallucinations, distortions sound and color, and even “out of body” like experiences. Statistics show approximately 3.1 million young people (ages of 12 to 25) have used a nonprescription cough and cold medicine to get high. Like any abused substance, there are potentially negative consequences to one’s health. In the case of dextromethorphan, it’s also addictive and reports of bone and nerve cell damage, high blood pressure, as well as both heart and brain damage is associated with long term abuse.
Similar to the high sought with dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl and sleep-aid type medications) as well as dimenhydrinate (in motion sickness medications such as Dramamine) in large doses can cause one to feel high and have hallucinations similar to street drugs. Abusers take upwards of 40 tablets to achieve the desired effects they are looking for, unbeknownst of the dangers and damage it has on their bodies. Extremely high doses of diphenhydramine or dimenhydrinate have caused dangerous heartbeat irregularities, heart attacks, kidney or liver damage, and even death. Other side effects include depression, memory loss, and urine retention. Got your attention yet? Wait, there’s more.
As easy as taking a quick trip to the convenience store, diet pills and caffeine pills are a breeze to obtain too. They have the stimulant qualities customers look to get a quick pick-me-up. Whether it’s to curb an appetite or stay awake and alert to finish a shift, they still aren’t without potential dangers…especially when abused. Exceeding the recommended dosages, especially in large quantities, can also lead to euphoria or even hallucinations. Overdoses can cause irregular heartbeats, kidney failure, dizziness, weakness, blurred vision, gastric reflux, severe headaches, breathing problems, or even death. Abusers may often take these pills in combination with energy type drinks, which are full of stimulants as well, to potentiate and accelerate the effects.
With our notorious west Texas weather, chances are you also have a nasal decongestant among your arsenal of home medications to treat symptoms from colds or allergies. Yep, it’s also on the list of abused drugs…especially products containing pseudoephedrine, which ironically is the same ingredient used to manufacture methamphetamines. It’s a main reason why we’re required to show identification in order to purchase it from the drug store or pharmacy. But, even with purchasing restrictions to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine one can buy, it remains a commonly abused OTC medication. People abuse this drug for its stimulant and euphoric effects by taking well beyond the recommended dosage parameters. And not to sound like a broken record, but the nasty side effects can include irregular heartbeats, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and breathing issues. Oh, yes and let’s not include organ failure as well.
Hopefully this has shed some much needed light to an otherwise perceived inconspicuous setting in our homes to be mindful of. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and look beyond the obvious when others around you may use these medications, especially without symptoms their intended to be used for. Like other medications you know to be dangerous or potentially abused, add these OTC medicines to your list by keeping them locked and stored away appropriately. These simple changes and discussions may save a life one day.
Source: Levi Stone, RN, MSN, Drug abuse can start in the medicine cabinet, The Odessa American, March 8, 2020.