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Adolescence Substance Abuse: Over The Counter Inhalants And Cough Syrup


Over the counter drugs commonly known as OTC refers to the prescription of drugs that are not meant for medical use. It is therefore common to find the drugs being used for purposes not initially meant for the drugs or otherwise on the box label. Research has shown that, the use of these drugs is on the increase at global scale and this has made it to be an international issue. Drug abuse of both prescribed as well as over the counter drugs has been on a steady increase and according to the national survey done on drug use conducted in 2005, there are approximately 6.4 million adolescents using prescription drugs for other motives other than the targeted medical reasons in a given particular month.

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More than 4.7% of these individuals use the drugs to relieve pain while about 1.8 million us them as tranquillizers and the rest as stimulants. Non-medical use of the over the counter drugs went up to 6.3% in 2005 from 5.4 three years earlier and the major contributing factor was their use to relief pain. It is therefore important that, the entire physician be watchful whenever they are prescribing the drugs to the individuals to find out on whether they are targeted for being abused. (Tripathi, 1999)

Health Belief Model
Concept Condom Use Education Example STI Screening or HIV Testing
1. Perceived Susceptibility Young people believe the OTC drugs and over-the counter drugs when taken for long may be toxic and can cause death. Young people believe the effects of toxic drugs may already be taking roots along with the resulting drug addiction.
2. Perceived Severity Young people have the attitude that, if they ignore doctors prescriptions and the writings on the labels, may impacts negatively and most youths would abuse the drugs out of ignorance and the effects are worth strict following of instructions. Youth have an attitude that, the effect of overusing the inhalants and the OTC drugs is long term and is worth taking drugs only when it is necessary and on doctor’s prescriptions.
3. Perceived Benefits Most youths feel that, they can take the drugs severally to enjoy a “buzz” as well as other related effects. Youths are in agreement with the recommendation that, licenses/or ID cards should be scanned to verify age before a person can purchase. They believe the government should intervene to limit the availability of drugs I excess amounts in all retail outlets.
4. Perceived Barriers Young people have an attitude that, OTC drugs stands a better alternative for the ever increasing price of alcohol and other stimulants and that, no one would easily suspect them of drug abuse when they purchase OTC drugs as well as inhalants. Youth believe they cannot afford money to buy alcohol and other hard drugs such as marijuana and by virtue of their age, they can always be suspected whenever they attempt to buy the other drugs other than over-the-counter drugs.
5. Cues to Action Abuser of OTC drugs are sensitized on the adverse effect of drug abuse through seminars and posters at common places and road junctions as well as more educative information on the drug labels. Similar posters should also be installed in the school’s compounds where they are visible to everyone. Remainder cues should be provided to the youths especially through seminars with videos showing how destructive abuse of drugs has been for some members in the society. Such videos should be provided and sponsored for free by the government supported agencies.
6. Self-Efficacy Youth and young adults should be courageous to participate in community education regarding the effects of drug abuse especially to their fellow youths and should feel the duty as part of their responsibility and responsible movers of desirable behavior. Government should ensure strict penalties are given to the pharmacists found selling OTC drugs and inhalants without following the agreed procedures and beyond reasonable amounts. They should also be trained on how to suspect a youth who is after drug abuse to curd the trend at the earliest possible.

Most youths feel that, they can take the drugs severally to enjoy a “buzz” as well as other related effects. On the other hand, pharmacist thought that drug abuse was just use of usual drugs such as cocaine and heroine but research has shown that, the modern trend of drug abuse by the youth involves use of the drugs administered by the same pharmacists commonly referred to over-the-counter drugs. The term pharming refers to the feeling of highness derived from OTC away from the intended prescription. This may include use of Rx drugs for recreational purposes and use of cough syrup as well as overdosing of cold medications sold over the counter. It is therefore the responsibility of the pharmacists in the communities to assist in stopping abuse of these drugs as a way of promoting public health. (Kilmer, 2005)

It has also been the responsibility of the state as well as the laws in the federal government to stop the use of licit drugs for purposes that are illicit. The two bodies have also been trying to control the availability of the OTC drugs in the market for their easy control. This is the reason why the drug enforcement program was established to manage drug abuse in 1970. When Rx drugs are put on schedule, stringent control is enhanced through regulated distribution as they are available in almost all retail shops where little consultation is made from the health officers because of the belief that, they cause no harm.

Majority believe that, no one can intend to abuse the drugs. Over-the-counter drugs, since they are not prescribed, are meant to have an easy language that can be understood by a layperson if the instructions on the label are properly followed. The instruction on the label should be in a simple language but research has shown that, most consumers never read the label on the OTC and for the few who read, they do not adhere to the instructions. (Mann, 1990)

Problems associated with over the counter inhalants and Cough Syrup

When these drugs are used for a long period and in large amounts, they become toxic to the user and at times become deadly. When inhalants and cough syrup are taken for the right need according to the prescription, it is not regarded as substance abuse but in most cases when youth take them, they purpose to change their mood through a feeling of Euphoria as well as triggering of hallucination. This kind of medical practice is strongly opposed and regarded as substance abuse.

Abuse of inhalants and cough syrups is more common among adolescent aged below 17 years and because of the availability of the drugs in almost all pharmacies as well as supermarkets, they can be bought in large amounts with little suspicion being raised by the seller. An adolescent will prefer to buy the OTC and avoid alcohol because of its illegal nature on belief that, when they consume the OTC in excess to obtain intoxication, they would still be safe. Research has indicated that, adolescents are more likely to succumb to the use of OTC by a factor of 18 in comparison to overdose of illicit drugs such as heroin. Grover, 2007)

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Inhalants and cough syrup affect the biochemical pathways though the central nervous system especially in the brain. They therefore result to addiction where the user experiences impaired control over the use of the drugs and the use becomes compulsive. The use tends to continue with the use of the inhalant and cough syrup even when he/she has experienced adverse effects. This leads to sedation that is persistent as well as into over the counter inhalants and Cough Syrup intoxication as a result of overuse and the body’s way of functioning becomes impaired along a multiple of several medical complications.

The adolescent tends to experience psychological manifestations that include irritability and anxiety as well as depression. Due to the resultant behavior, the user is likely to encounter adverse consequences such as legal conflict and lack of enough finance as a result of poor management of resources and the little money that he/she could be having. It is also likely for the adolescent to experience withdrawal symptoms when there are attempts to discontinue with the use of the drugs. (Tripathi, 1999)

Existing remedy/prevention of the problems

The modern pharmacists are being familiarized with the common inhalants and cough syrups among the adolescents where they are making a list of them in both generic as well as brand names for easy control. The pharmacists are also familiarizing themselves with the signs as well as symptoms that are linked to the abuse of the drugs. Parents as well as teachers are informed with the adverse effects caused by the abuse of inhalants and cough syrups. The community is being educated on the abuse of over-the-counter drugs as well as the associated dangers. (Kilmer, 2005)

New way to manage/remedy this issue

The pharmacists who are assigned to serve the community have the responsibility in line with their profession in deterring the abuse of over-the-counter drugs in order to promote public health. The state government through its federal laws is restricting use of inhalants and cough syrups by the adolescent by making them less available. Community campaigns are being enhanced to inform the community on the importance of reading the labels on the OTC which are normally written in simple language even for a layman to understand. This is because research has shown that, majority of the consumers ignore the readings and therefore end up not following the instructions.

Most of the information regarding the abuse of the inhalants and cough syrups are found on the internet because adolescent also purchase these drugs over the internet and therefore parent gain much information to monitor their use by the youths. Parents can educate themselves by obtain printed information from the internet or from drug treatment center as well as drug abuse counselors. This information is useful in comparing any observation made by the parents on the behaviors shown by the teenagers on a daily occurrence. For example, if the adolescent is sluggish and always stimulated with dilated pupils of the eyes, he/she is likely to be abusing the drugs.

An impromptu search should be done especially in the adolescent’s bedrooms and other personal belongings including bathrooms to find out any presence of cough syrup bottles and inhalants as well as monitoring the pace at which these items disappear. If such information regarding abuse of the over-the-counter drugs is confirmed, the parents should seek advice from center for drug treatment or a counselor regarding the necessary action to save the adolescent from the potential harm as soon as possible before the situation becomes uncontrollable. (Mann, 1990)


Abuse of over-the-counter drugs such as inhalants and cough syrups has become a problem of the society that requires to be addressed from various perspectives. It is therefore the role of the pharmacists to ensure healthcare is conducted in a professional manner that incorporate giving advice to the adolescents on the risks that arise on the abuse of the OTC. Parents should also be on the know-how about various symptoms of an adolescent who is on the drug abuse so that they can easily discover the problem and arrest it the earliest possible.

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Tripathi B. (1999): Substance abuse in children and adolescents: Springer pp. 56-59.

Kilmer J. (2005): Relapse Prevention for Abuse of Club Drugs, Hallucinogens, Inhalants, and Steroids: The Guilford Press pp. 34-37.

Grover S. (2007): Drug dependence in adolescents: Springer pp. 28-34.

Mann G. (1990): Ineffective Individual Coping Substance Abuse: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins pp. 87-92.

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