OTC Medicine Safety for Tweens

Lesson Objective:

Students will understand that over the counter (OTC) medicines can be abused. 

Students should learn to:

  1. People can misuse OTC medicines in a number of ways.
  2. Using OTC medicines irresponsibly can cause harm.
  3. In unsafe situations involving OTC medicines, students can contact the Missouri Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for free, confidential help.

Key Terms:

  • Active ingredient
  • Prescription
  • OTC

Teacher preparation:

For this lesson, teachers will need to provide students with computers for research. Students will also need posterboard and markers or other presentation materials. 

Lesson Instructions:

A. Introduction – 10 minutes

Before the lesson, have students answer this question on a sheet of paper:

  • Do you think OTC medicines are dangerous if they are used incorrectly? Why or why not?

Have students set this question aside to revisit later. 

Next, introduce the lesson: We often come into contact with items or substances that are safe if they’re used the right way. If they’re used the wrong way, however, these things can be dangerous. One example of this is Ibuprofen or pain medicine. When Ibuprofen is used as directed, it reduces swelling and fevers, and helps with body aches or headaches. But large doses of Ibuprofen can damage your stomach or kidneys. Can you think of other items that can be dangerous if they are misused or taken incorrectly? Answers may include cleaning supplies, auto fuel, other medicines. 

Define OTC medicine: Over the counter (OTC) medicines can be sold directly to people without a prescription. They treat a variety of illnesses including coughs and colds, stomach problems, and pain. Unfortunately, some OTC medicines have active ingredients that can potentially be misused, especially at higher dosages. People can misuse OTC medicines by taking the medicine in a way or at a dosage other than directed on the label, taking medicine specifically to get high, or mixing OTC medicines together or with alcohol.

B. Class Q&A – 10 minutes

Ask students a few questions and have them discuss answers with each other and with the class: 

  1. What negative effects might result from not reading and following the label on a medication? 
  2. What could happen if a person takes more than the recommended dose of a medicine – even an OTC product? 
  3. What might happen if a person takes medicine that is meant for someone else? 
  4. What could happen if a person mixes an OTC medicine with other substances? 

Students should understand that these and other misuse scenarios can be dangerous. Misusing medicine can lead to nausea, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and even death. OTC medicine may also be addictive. 

C. Group Research Activity – 15 minutes

Divide students into 4 groups or more (depending on the size of the class). Students should use a computer or printed handouts to conduct further research and take notes on what they find. They’ll use these notes in the next activity. 

Group 1: Research this site on Lean: 

Group 2: Research these sites on dextromethorphan (DXM):

Group 3: Research this site on Dietary Supplements: 

Group 4: Research this site on Loperamide: 

D. Group Project – 20 minutes

Once students have had a chance to conduct research and take notes, have them use the information they have gathered to create a poster, flyer/handout, or presentation that will warn other teens about the dangers of OTC medications. Each student poster, flyer, or presentation should include elements that grab the reader’s attention, such as startling facts or statistics or eye-catching visuals. Their project should include facts about why these substances are dangerous and advice about how to stay safe. 

If there is time, have students present their projects to the class.