Lesson 4: Medicines and Misuse

Note to Teachers: Before beginning each lesson in the OTC Literacy program, inform students that they should never take medicine without the supervision of a parent or trusted adult.

Lesson Summary
In this lesson we will take a closer look at what OTC medicine misuse means, and why it can be harmful. The lesson will also reinforce the importance of using medicine responsibly.


  • Define misuse as it relates to OTC medicines
  • Understand why misusing OTC medicines can be harmful
  • Identify the steps to take when encountering an OTC medicine misuse situation

Materials: Persuasive Writing Student Worksheet, Slides for Pre-Activity, whiteboard or slide projector, OTC Literacy's family newsletter resource, Internet access

Time: One 40-minute class period

Lesson Steps


  1. After completing lessons 1–3, students will have foundational knowledge about over-the-counter medicines, the Drug Facts label, and the importance of using the dosing device that comes with the medicine. 
  2. Begin this lesson with a classroom discussion asking the question: Do you think OTC medicines are dangerous if they are "misused"—meaning used in a manner other than what is directed by the Drug Facts label or a doctor? Allow students to offer opinions. Through a show of hands, collect an informal tally of "yes" versus "no" opinions. Note the results on the board. Inform students that by the end of this lesson, the class will revisit an answer to the question.
  3. Before diving in to this lesson about misuse, begin by trying this quick exercise to help illuminate how students' preconceived ideas can sometimes cloud the real facts about a topic. Inform students that you will show three slides. At the end they simply need to answer the question: How are these three items related? (Answer: All are okay for humans when used or stored properly and in moderation, but when they are not, all can have detrimental health effects.)
  4. Afterward, go back in the slide show and uncover the answers beneath each item.

SLIDE #1: Sun

Fifteen minutes of sun per day is essential for maintaining a healthy level of vitamin D, which promotes the retention of calcium, mostly in your bones. Calcium is very important in the development of your bones and in strong teeth. Too much sun, however, may cause cancer and skin damage. To protect against damage from the sun's rays, it is important to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest; to wear protective clothing; and to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.*
 Now you know: Use a good sunscreen when outdoors for more than 15 minutes and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
[*Source: American Skin Association]

SLIDE #2: Potatoes

ANSWER: French fried, baked, or mashed potatoes are an excellent low-fat source of carbohydrates, which your body needs for energy. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that potatoes naturally contain solanine, a very toxic ingredient that can cause a number of health problems. Solanine thrives in well-lit environments and is present when you see a green tinge under the potato's skin and experience a bitter taste.
Now you know: Store potatoes in a cool, dark place and be on the lookout for the discoloration and bad taste.

SLIDE #3: Vitamins

Vitamins can be purchased from store shelves and are widely available. They're easy to access, but as they're considered over-the-counter medicines, they should be taken under the guidance of a parent or trusted adult. Vitamins can be dangerous if they're misused or if a person isn't using them in accordance with the Supplement Facts label on the bottle.
Now you know: Read the label and talk to a trusted adult before taking vitamins.


  1. Discuss how, on the surface, these three items are common in our lives and safe for humans, but there are specific guidelines for using or consuming them. If you do not follow the safety precautions for proper use and storage, there could be harmful consequences. Reflect on what happens when you dig a little deeper—you often discover new information that you might just glance over every day.

    Now Ask: Can you think of other items you come in contact with regularly that are safe when used properly, but dangerous when misused? (Answers may include: appliances, cars, street signs, medicines, cleaning supplies, etc.)

  2. Select medicine as a topic for further discussion. Have students reflect on these questions. Is it dangerous or safe to...
    • not read and follow the Drug Facts label?
    • take more than the recommended dose?
    • redose more frequently than directed on the label?
    • use more than one medicine with the same active ingredient at the same time?
    • take medicines for longer than directed on the label?
    • take medicines for reasons or symptoms other than what is directed on the label?

  3. The answer to all of these questions is "no" because there are very real and potentially dangerous consequences when someone misuses OTC medicines. The Drug Facts label provides instructions for using the medicine safely. OTC medicines can be harmful if misused or if not used as directed by the Drug Facts label.

  4. Ask students: What is the perception among your friends about misusing medicines? (Answers may include: misusing Rx drugs is dangerous and can be deadly; no one really gets hurt from misusing OTC medicines.) Based on the information you've learned in OTC Literacy, do you believe that there is a need to inform people about the dangers of misusing OTC medicines? 

  5. Distribute the Persuasive Writing Student Worksheet. Explain to students that this worksheet can be used to launch a larger school-wide campaign. A coalition of teachers, students, and administrators can come together to show support for making schools and homes safer places for children and their families. Through this campaign, the coalition will help to elevate the amount of information that is shared about the safe use and storage of OTC medicines and the dangers of misuse within the school community. If the students agree, explain that you can submit a class set of these letters to the principal to notify him or her that the class has been discussing this matter and believes that there is a need to more widely disseminate an informational campaign to the greater school community. Encourage students to begin writing the letters.

  6. Distribute the family newsletter resource available at scholastic.com/OTCliteracy and urge students to continue the discussion at home.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. DrugFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

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