Robyn Margulis
Robyn Margulis Vernon Ogrodnek

As the parent of kids ages 11 and 13, I recently embarked on the years that I have dreaded since the day my first child was born: The teen years - the do or die years. Your kids either turn out good, or they turn out bad; which way often depends on how well you parent and on how well you monitor and guide the choices they make. And, as always, you worry about their safety; but now those worries are greater because more freedom means more choices that they will make without you. Sex, drugs, alcohol and drivin - these are just some of the things to which teens are exposed and may try to test out.

I'm wondering if I can just find a big plastic bubble on ebay and call it a day.

When kids are younger and parents are responsible for all the choices, things are a lot easier. And because they are so vulnerable at a young age, they're under the watchful eye of their parents or caretakers at all times. If you can't see them, then they are tucked away in a safe room with an ultra-sensitive monitor that allows you to hear every little breath, even if your precious cargo is several rooms away.

When mine were young, I had a child safety seat in both cars, and all of the standard safety gadgets throughout the house: Little plastic kid-proof locks on kitchen and bath cabinets, doorknob and outlet covers, and safety gates. Back in those days, I couldn't imagine that I would be contemplating locking my cabinets today. But that is precisely what experts are recommending.

Apparently, parents these days don't just have to worry about their teens raiding their liquor cabinets. In addition to the worries of your kids being exposed to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, you now have to watch out for the kinds of things found in your home office or bathroom.

The FDA reported last month an increase in teen abuse of cough medicine. The key ingredient for abusers is dextromethorphan (DXM), which, according to the FDA, is found in more than 100 over-the-counter medications. Robotripping (also called Dexing, Tussing, Skittling, Triple C's, and Robo-fizzing), the common term for the abuse of cough medicine, involves the ingestion of more than 25 times the recommended dose and has resulted in thousands of hospital visits each year. reported that a 2008 study found one in 10 American teenagers has abused DXM, which at high doses can cause hallucinogenic effects. The availability of DXM (also known as "the poor man's PCP") is apparently the reason for its increased misuse.

Although the FDA recently rejected a call to require a prescription for DXM, they are looking at other ways to curb its abuse by teens, including greater public awareness. Also being considered is an age restriction of 18 for the purchase of any over-the-counter product containing DXM - which would require retailers to check identification. This does not account, however, for the availability of DXM products on the Internet.

Other household items that have been known for years to be abused by teens are aerosols, such as dust cleaners for computer keyboards. Apparently these products are used as intoxicating inhalants. More commonly known as "huffing" it is the inhaling of gases or vapors typically from aerosol-type containers, including whipped cream, and non-stick cooking spray. The effects of inhalants are rapid blood levels and intoxicating effects that resemble intravenous injection.

It is difficult to determine how many deaths have been directly associated to inhalants because of underreporting; and reported deaths are often generically attributed to cardiac failure. But it is clear that the availability of these household products has contributed to abuse, injury and death. And prolonged abuse is not necessary for death to occur. Some reports suggest that one in three inhalant-related fatalities occur among first-time users.

A somewhat more obvious, potentially abused household-available product, is prescription medications. But did you know that even if you keep yours hidden away, your kids and teens may be getting access to a host of prescription medications through their friends? An apparent new craze among teens is to host and attend "pill parties" or "pharm parties." At these parties, attendees provide pills obtained from their homes where they are thrown randomly into a large bowl (also called trail mix) to be ingested at-will by partygoers. Teens reach in the bowl and ingest whatever they pick up without knowing the type of medication that is being ingested and whether they might interact. In Oklahoma, the state's Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control Director reported this year that 86 percent of overdose deaths in the state were related to prescription drugs, many associated with pill parties. In a 2005 survey by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 19 percdent of U.S. teenagers - roughly 4.5 million youths - reported having taken prescription painkillers such as Vicodin or OxyContin or stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall to get high.

I'd like to think that I am not naïve when it comes to the various dangers to which teens are exposed. But the recent reports regarding abuses of everyday household items have certainly opened my eyes. It's far more important than ever to curb the accessibility of prescription medications and other products that could be misused. And most importantly, we must warn our kids of the dangers of certain behaviors, and encourage them to make the right choices.

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