The Five Moms and Dr. Drew Take Cough Medicine Abuse to Capitol Hill

100_7073-copyI had no idea. But I guess I shouldn’t blame myself for being so naive. It seems that many parents don’t have any idea either. We generally assume that the drugs we need to worry about our children abusing are such party favorites as alcohol, ecstasy, pot, cocaine or even heroin. I never thought a popular drug of choice these days was dextromethorphan – a key component in cough medicine.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a firm representing the CHPA (Consumer Healthcare Products Association) and asked to attend a two day event in Washington DC covering the Five Moms. (Three of the Five Moms are pictured to the right.)

This Monday, I arrived at the lovely, historic Hotel Lombardy curious about what the next two days would bring me. While I settled down in my room over-looking Pennsylvania Avenue, I reviewed the materials that were left for me.

The Problem

A study from the Partnership for a Drug Free America has shown that about one in ten teens (roughly 2.4 million kids) ages 12-17  have reported to have intentionally abused over the counter cough medicine. And about 28% of teens know someone who has abused it. But only 4% of parents believe their children would actually abuse cough medicine. The Partnership for Drug Free America also reports that “41 percent of teens mistakenly believe that abuse of medicines is less dangerous than abuse of illegal street drugs.” And when teens do abuse dextromethorphan, it has been found that they take 20 – 50 times the recommended dosage which equates to consuming multiple bottles of cough medicine at one time.

The Five Moms

On behalf of StopMedicineAbuse.org, five dynamic mothers have currently become the faces of cough medicine abuse. And this week they arrived in Washington DC with the CHPA to meet with Congress people on Capitol Hill to lobby for their support. They had three goals:

  1. Urge the importance of parental education about cough medicine abuse by promoting the StopMedicineAbuse.org site. The Five Moms believe education about the abuse of this common place medication will do more to curb it’s use rather than simply restricting purchase since these medications are found in every home. As one of the Five Moms noted during our meetings on Capitol Hill, “You can’t protect your family from something you don’t know about.”
  2. Gain support for the dextromethorphan Abuse Prevention Act of 2009 (s. 1383) which would amend the Controlled Substances Act and prevent the sale of cough medicine (or any products with dextromethorphan) to those under 18 years of age.
  3. Gain support for the dextromethorphan Distribution Act of 2009 (H.R. 1259) which if enacted would limit who may purchase bulk amounts of raw dextromethorphan. There are no current limits at this time.

During our time in DC, I got to know four of these mothers (the fifth wasn’t able to come due to an illness in the family) and was truly touched by their stories. Misty Fetko shares a powerful and upsetting story about her son Carl who passed away due to a lethal mix and overdose of drugs including dextromethorphan.  Blaise Brooks, a strong mother, speaker and mentor, educates her community about over the counter medication abuse. Hilda Morales-Roybal took on this cause after becoming informed about the abuse of over the counter medication in her own community. And finally Cristy Crandell currently has a son serving a 13 year prison sentence for crimes he committed while under the influence of dextromethorphan. Each amazing, each examples, each changing lives in their communities and now each delivering their message to Capitol Hill.

Dr. Drew

And so now you’re probably wondering how Dr. Drew fit in to all of this. Well, the night before we all went to Capitol Hill, we sat down to a lovely dinner with the Five Moms, the CHPA, the PR firm who organized all of our comings and goings, and we bloggers: Jenn, Janice and myself. While chatting with the mothers and considering our menus, an announcement was made that we would have another guest. Dr. Drew Pinsky was able to come to DC also to support this entire initiative and he would be joining us for dinner in a few minutes as well as coming to Capitol Hill with us the following day. After a few blogger (ahem) gasps (to put it subtly), Dr. Drew arrived soon there after and ate a delicious meal with us.

(And in case you’ve been living under a rock, here is where you might find Dr. Drew.)

Let me add a quick sidebar here to share something about Dr. Drew. He sat down at our table and graciously, patiently, wonderfully took question after question about addiction, abuse and even discussed our own personal stories. He didn’t have to do that. But he did. He truly cares about the work he is doing and obviously goes above and beyond to help others on a daily basis. I would like to extend a very heartfelt thank you to Dr. Drew for a fascinating dinner discussion.

five-moms-dc-and-dr-drew-pics-009-copy five-moms-dc-and-dr-drew-pics-015-copy

CHPA

I have mentioned the CHPA before but should do so again now. Who are they? The Consumer Healthcare Products Association is a non for profit group representing the makers of over the counter medications. And yes, they brought me to this event because they wanted their message heard here. But during my brief time with the CHPA folks, I was impressed by and truly connected with this very committed group of people. And then we were lucky enough to have Alan, a CHPA representative and our valiant leader on the Hill, as part of our group too. With two children of his own and a clear dedication to this message, he fearlessly guided us through our day with humor and tact.

100_7071-copyMoms Storm Capitol Hill

On Tuesday morning, the Five Moms, the bloggers, the CHPA folks, and PR peeps piled into cabs and found ourselves on Capitol Hill. Where was was Dr. Drew? He and Misty had already been up taping 39 segments for local television that morning to support this cause and we would meet up with them later. Check one of the segments out here:

However for the rest of us, our first stop that morning was the Rayburn building, home to Representative offices located directly across from the Capitol building. As we filed out of the cab, we stared up at this building’s grandeur considering what our day had in store for us. But we only took a moment and then continued up the steps. There was work to be done.100_7064-copy

We met a lot of people that day. A lot. We criss-crossed Capitol Hill, tromped up and down the steps into and out of both the Rayburn Building and the Hart Building (where most Senator offices are located). While our fancy shoes silently tortured us with every step we hardly noticed because we were lucky enough to have appointments with:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)
Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX)
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

five-moms-dc-and-dr-drew-pics-028-copyWe didn’t meet every congress person. In fact, my group usually met with Legislative Assistants. But Dr. Drew and Misty, along with the President and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, arrived in time for our face to face meetings with both Rep. Fred Upton and Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Every office was welcoming and wholeheartedly interested in the Five Mom’s message. They listened, they gave us time, and they promised further consideration. And as Hilda Morales-Roybal so correctly put forward to each member of her audience: “we are simply asking for you to support common sense”.

Common sense. Yep, that is exactly it. So it would seem these bills are obvious shoe-ins, something every member of congress could get behind – wouldn’t you think? Not so fast. I came to realize that while open to the Five Moms’ message, even the most straight forward, bi-partisan issues won’t be immediately resolved without some behind the scenes work. Call it horse-trading, call it prioritizing, call it plain old politics but these bills have run into a couple brick walls in the Senate. I know, I don’t get it either, but they have.

What Can You Do?

First of all, every parent should educate themselves. Go to StopMedicineAbuse.org to learn more about the risks, the facts, how dextromethorphan is abused and what signs to look for.

Secondly (and probably MOST importantly) you need to discuss this drug and its risks with your teens. Don’t find yourself assuming your sweet innocent child would never do this. Don’t find yourself dealing with a future overdose just like Misty Fetko did.

smaicon_resizeThirdly, read medicine labels, look for the educational icon (see at right) and keep careful tabs on what you have in your medicine cabinets. If you see this icon on a medicine label, you should be aware that it has the potential to be abused and may contain dextromethorphan.

Finally, email or write your Representatives and Senators about this issue. Because you know what? They asked me to tell you that. In fact, Senator Grassley had statistics right at his fingertips about how many letters or emails his office receives and how many they respond to. And then after our meeting, his assistant came up to the bloggers and urged us to tell our readers the same. WRITE YOUR REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS. Because they are listening and they will support what you feel strongly about. No really, they will.

My Afterglow

And so, readers of mine, I will wrap up this lengthy post to say that I was officially blown away by my Capitol Hill experience. You see, I got to experience first hand the influence that moms have on their communities and country at large. And it has left me awed and inspired. Because I often flashback a few years to when my children were very young, when I thought I had no affect on very much any longer apart from raising my boys. I was simply a mom not doing too much of consequence apart from wiping bums, washing bottles and watching Ellen from time to time. No no. Actually, we have a voice. An important one. One that is heard on Capitol Hill – whether it be in face to face meetings or via letters and blog posts. We can make an important difference if we get busy, get talking, get writing and get organizing. Don’t forget what we have the potential to accomplish. Thanks to my time with the Five Moms, I know I never will.

Disclosure note: While my trip and hotel expenses were covered by the CHPA, the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. This is an extremely important initiative and I was proud to be there to offer my support.

10 comments ↓

#1 Corina @ Down to Earth Mama on 10.23.09 at 7:02 am

I applaud you and your work here. As a teacher, I saw teens come to class high on cough medicine. We did all we could within the school to educate. But there were many who thought “over-the-counter” and parents who thought “not-my-kid” or “they are just being teens”. Sometimes it put kids at real risk with sad stories.

Thank you so much for your effort. It is an important one.

#2 Kathy T. on 10.23.09 at 9:48 am

Caroline, I just wrote about this on Love Shak, Baby. Please let me know if the write-up is okay. Thank you for sharing this and giving me the opportunity to also get the word out. Kathy

#3 Shan D. on 10.23.09 at 9:31 pm

So proud of my friend.

#4 Hilda Morales-Roybal on 10.25.09 at 6:55 pm

Caroline,

Wow, so why are you not working at a Newspaper or Magazine? I simply loved your coverage of “our” trip to the capitol. It was an amazing day and a half and we loved meeting you along with Jenn and Janice.

Thank you for supporting us and I hope that CHPA keeps us working together to keep the wheels rolling for stopmedicineabuse.org and Fivemoms.com

Sincerley,
Hilda

#5 Bridget (@bcyberchondriac) on 10.26.09 at 5:02 pm

I admire any effort to get the issue of addiction out of the closet. And, as you say ,Caroline, the issue of abusing “legal” drugs is what we often overlook.
Did anyone know that you can snort Ritalin (the ADHD med of choice)? Like a lot of it? And get a big buzz?
Scary.

#6 Chris on 10.26.09 at 5:41 pm

While I support the idea of educating parents about the subject, trying to ban the sale to people under 18 is by far one of the stupidest things you can do.

I’ve known many teenagers in my life who have been forced to take care of their younger siblings — which means, when their younger siblings get a bad cough, they are the ones to go to the store to get cough medicine for them. Why are the teenagers forced to do this? Either because their parents are disabled or their parents are horrible parents.

So you’re suggesting taking away these kids’ only way to get cough medicine for their family, all because some parents haven’t successfully taught their children the ideas of responsibility and consequences to their actions.

It’s been mentioned before and it will likely be mentioned again: If your children have the $5 to $10 to spend on every bottle of cough medicine they use, then there’s your first problem. Secondly, if your children don’t have the money, but are getting it anyways, then you’ve got a bigger problem.

The only thing raising the restriction will do is make those who have a legitimate use for cough medicine suffer through a major inconvenience, while everyone else will just be forced to get it through illegal means.

You’re just promoting crime by trying to pass this initiative. Those over 18 will take advantage of the fact that those under 18 can’t buy it by selling it to them for higher prices. It’s the exact same thing when it comes to alcohol and people under 21. The restrictions placed on alcohol sales has done nothing except get kids to buy their alcohol from other people.

I swear. How stupid can you be?

#7 tcmom on 10.27.09 at 5:56 am

Chris – During my time with the Five Moms, their priority above all else was educating parents about this abuse. Whether cough medicine is restricted to those 18 and over or not, cough medicine is everywhere and readily available in every home. Educating parents that this kind of abuse is happening is the most important portion of this initiative. Teens can get their hands on whatever they want – legal or not. But if they have had open conversations with their parents about how dangerous abusing this medication is, maybe, hopefully, they will be less likely to try it for a quick high or assume its safer to abuse because it can be bought over the counter.

#8 Bobbie Caudill on 10.27.09 at 12:11 pm

I think that dextromethophran should be behind the counter for the pharmacist to despense. It is the big legal drug secret that most law enforcement and parents do not know about. I plan to contact as many state rep in Kentucky as I can to ge something done about this I do not want anyone else to go through the addiction that my son has with this product Bobbie Caudill

#9 Chris on 11.04.09 at 12:00 pm

Every law enforcement officer that I’ve ever met, across several states, knows about Dextromethorphan.

tcmom – My only point is that the entirety of the focus should be put on educating others about it, rather than spending time trying to get the sale of it restricted, since that isn’t going to do anything other than cause more problems.

And as for “how dangerous” it is to abuse, even if you use dextromethorphan in combination with guaifenesin, it IS less dangerous than other drugs that your teen could be out using. And using dextromethorphan by itself makes it even safer — almost the marijuana of hallucinogens. All the hype that has been spread over Olney’s lesions and what not is unsubstantiated — there have been 0 cases of Olney’s lesions forming in primates.

I just think the primary focus should be on educating parents, not only about the potential for abuse, but also how to teach their kids to do it relatively safely if they’re going to do it. Parents have talks about how to drink relatively safely with their kids, even if they’re going to drink underage. So why not do the same with DXM?

#10 Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) on 11.08.09 at 11:51 pm

WOW girl – this was one comprehensive post! What a fantastic recap!

It was wonderful getting to know you – I just wished we lived closer to each other!

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