Addiction A-Z

Over-the-counter (OTC) medication

Whenever a drug has the ability to alter the mind (what are called psychoactive qualities), it has the potential to be abused. That includes some medications that are legally and widely available for sale without a doctor’s prescription — what’s called “over-the-counter” (OTC). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many Americans believe that OTC drugs are safer than illicit drugs, but that’s not always the case. When an over-the-counter drug is not taken as indicated on the product’s label — meaning too much, too little, at the wrong time, for the wrong ailment or accompanied by the wrong substances — even OTC medications can be risky business. They are especially dangerous when combined with other drugs like alcohol, and with prescription medicines, which are typically more potent. Cough syrups and cold medicines available in drugstores can also be problematic. Most contain dextromethorphan (DXM), which suppresses coughs, or promethazine-codeine cough syrup, which contains codeine to stop a cough, but also induces relaxation. Cough/cold treatments can be abused by mixing them with soda. DXM has similar effects to the street drugs ketamine (“Special K”) and PCP, both of which are hallucinogenic drugs. When very high doses of OTC codeine-laced syrups are ingested, heart rate and lung function can slow, possibly leading to overdose and death.


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