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You can overdose on over-the-counter drugs

By Angela V. Ignacio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 15:36:00 04/15/2008

MANILA, Philippines?In the reel world of comedy, we?ve seen grannies get high on cough syrup and start acting kooky. We?ve also laughed when a seafood-allergic Will Smith turned into a drunken lump of jelly just moments after downing whole bottles of Benadryl in the rom-com flick ?Hitch.?

But in the real world, overdosing on everyday over-the-counter (OTC) drugs is no laughing matter.
Sure, we all know the dangers of abusing both prescription and prohibited drugs. But what we don?t know is that even seemingly harmless non-prescription remedies can be misused or abused, and that the number of kids suffering from OTC drug abuse is increasing at a very alarming rate.

These drugs are safe?if properly taken. However, most people think they can take as much of these and as often as they want. That?s when things start to become ugly.

At the emergency room, more and more young patients are being treated for accidental or deliberate overdose. Habitual overdosing may be a form of coping mechanism for stress, whether caused by family, school or relationships.

Some do it to attract the attention of loved ones. Others see hallucinogenic drugs as a form of escape, but their effects could be long-term. Mental problems such as major depressive disorders and schizophrenia may also lead people to overdosing.

Awareness is the key to prevention. Here?s the 411 on some of the most commonly abused over-the-counter drugs and their detrimental effects.

Cough remedies

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressant present in many OTC cold remedies such as Robitussin.

When taken in high doses, it produces side effects such as hallucinations, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat and slurred speech. It has become notorious in the United States as a drug for ?getting high at a low cost.? Street names for DXM include Skittles, Robo and Triple C.

Also, it?s commonly mixed with other drugs such as antihistamines and acetaminophen. Kids who take these combined drugs run the risk of developing more serious health problems.

Acetaminophen

A popular choice for hangovers and headaches, acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol) counts as one of the more commonly misused and abused drugs.

College kids don?t realize that when they get a hangover, taking this drug is actually one of the worst things they can do. The alcohol, coupled with regular intake of this drug, will be too much for your liver to handle, eventually leading to liver and/or kidney failure.

I remember from a lecture on Toxicology during Pharmacology class that the toxic dose for adults is 6 grams, which is equivalent to 12 500-mg tablets, in 24 hours. Add a lifetime?s worth of alcohol intake and, well, you do the deadly math.

Aspirin

Aspirin belongs to a class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, which includes popular pain relievers like Ibuprofen.

Taking too much of it can cause ulcers and make bleeding problems even worse. Chronic abuse can also mask fever, which is your body?s natural reaction to infection. It can even ultimately damage your brain and lungs. Again, use these drugs only if you really need them, and in moderation.

Antihistamines and sleeping pills

What do these two types of medication have in common?

Diphenhydramine, the lolo of all cold, allergy and motion-sickness remedies, which is also included in many sleep aids due to its potent side effect: drowsiness.

Abusing this drug causes both short- and long-term effects, such as dry mouth, nose and throat, fast or irregular heartbeat, confusion, concentration difficulties, even erectile dysfunction.

Diet pills

Getting the ideal figure is an obsession of young and not-so-young women everywhere, so diet pills such as Orlistat and herbal slimming teas could be abused as well.

People trust a false equation: more pills + more often = more weight lost more quickly.

Sorry, but getting slim doesn?t happen overnight. Plus, not sticking to the recommended dose means you?d have to deal with embarrassing side effects such as bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.

Exercise plus a well-balanced diet is the gold standard, but if you must take these drugs, do so in the right dosage at the right time, as advised by your doctor.


E-mail the author at avignacio@gmail.com.

     


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