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Effects of OTC Drugs
Many of the over the counter (OTC) drugs, found in pharmacies today started out as prescription drugs. For the Federal Drug Administration FDA to change a prescription drug to an OTC, it must have a generally good safety profile and be used for a condition or symptoms that can be readily "self-diagnosed." Usually the dose is smaller, but OTCs affect the body in the same way and have the potential to cause similar side effects as their prescription versions, especially if not used as directed on the product label. A drug's availability over-the-counter makes it more convenient for the consumer, but is also makes the potential for abuse much greater. Some OTC medications, such as cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan, also known as DXM , can be safe and effective when taken as recommended; but they can also be abused and lead to serious adverse health consequences. OTC drugs with dextromethorphan (DXM) are by far the most abused over the counter medications.
The effects of DXM are what occur when a person reacts to using OTC drugs that contain dextromethorphan. When taken according to directions, products containing DXM produce few side effects and have a long history of safety and effectiveness as cough suppressants. The effects typically last for 6 hours. Over-the-counter medications that contain dextromethorphan often contain antihistamine and decongestant ingredients as well, and high doses of these mixtures can seriously increase risks of dextromethorphan abuse. The effects vary with dose, and dextromethorphan users describe a set of distinct dose-dependent "plateaus" ranging from a mild stimulant effect with distorted visual perceptions at low (approximately 2-ounce) doses to a sense of complete dissociation from one's body at doses of 10 ounces or more. When DXM is abused in high amounts, side effects can include confusion, dizziness, double or blurred vision, slurred speech, impaired physical coordination, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, numbness of fingers and toes, and disorientation. Abuse of OTC drugs can create negative effects on an individual's long term physical health. In serious cases, such as that of Heath Ledger, death may even occur. Examples of some of the more harmful effects of OTC drugs include: liver complications, ruptured blood vessel, stroke, heart palpitations, seizure, brain damage, coma or even death.
Other OTC's includes sleeping pills like Sominex or Tylenol P.M. The harmful effects of abusing these over the counter sleeping aids vary, from causing problems with sleeping habits to the possibility of narcolepsy (a condition that causes an uncontrollable, unpredictable desire to sleep). Another of these OTC's is Dramamine, the popular name brand motion sickness pill. If an individual abuses Dramamine, the side effects may include hallucinations. Diet pills sold over the counter carry their own risks when abused; the negative side effects often include heart palpitations. Some individuals become addicted to OTC diet pills within weeks of the first dose.
The effects of over the counter drugs can be beneficial if they are taken for short periods of time at the recommended dosage. Parents with teenagers should be aware of the potential for abuse of these medications, and the side effects of these OTC's, especially when consumed in large quantities, which should signal concern and the possible need for intervention and treatment.