Abuse of cold remedies by teens is national trend
ALOHA -- Children across the country are turning to over-the-counter cold
medicines for the same sort of high provided by illegal drugs such as LSD.
The drugs they are using are readily available, cheap and legal. In many
cases, they learn about them from Web sites that compare the drugs with
their illegal counterparts.
In that light, health officials are hardly surprised by an overdose Sunday
night that hospitalized five Washington County children who took large
doses of Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold Medicine.
Children's substance abuse, including that of cold remedies, has a history
as long as underage drinking. But until recently, the most commonly abused
substances were prescription drugs including codeine.
Coricidin contains dextromethorphan. According to the National Institute
on Drug Abuse, it is contained in more than 100 over-the-counter cold
remedies, from cough syrup to throat lozenges. Medicines with "DM" or
"Tuss" in their names contain the drug.
Dextromethorphan goes by a variety of slang names, including CCC, DXM,
DMX, Dex, Red Devils, Skittles, Robo, Tussin and the Poor Man's PCP.
"It's pretty common. It's probably one of the more common drugs of abuse
of the young teenager," said Craig Warden, chief of pediatric emergency
services and a medical toxicologist at the Oregon Poison Center.
Questions about overdoses Last year, the center received 294 calls about
potential cold medicine overdoses. The center does not break down how many
calls involved Coricidin or how many were intentional or accidental.
In 2000, two Clark County, Wash., teenagers died in incidents linked to
In one case, a 13-year-old boy was found dead in his closet after an
overdose of the drug. In another, a 15-year-old boy hanged himself after
taking about 30 pills. Both deaths were ruled suicides.
Warden said an overdose of the medicine can cause elevated body
temperature and heart rates. Medical literature shows it also can cause a
rise in blood pressure and an imbalance in body chemistry causing damage
to the liver. Other effects include impaired judgment, loss of
coordination, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes, slurred speech, tremors,
seizures and death.
Coricidin comes in packages, with 16 tablets selling for about $5. Warden
said the normal dosage for cold sufferers is one or two tablets every four
Abusers frequently take as much as a full box at once. The five Aloha
youths took 80 tablets among them.
Stores restrict access As abuse of over-the-counter medications has become
more prevalent, drugstores have started keeping them out of reach.
Customers don't need a prescription, but have to ask a pharmacist or clerk
to provide them.
"We used to have a problem and started keeping these medicines behind the
counter about two years ago," said Tom Herbage, pharmacist at Beaverton
Rite Aid pharmacies don't lock up cold medications because it would be
impractical given the number of brands, said Jody Cook, a spokeswoman for
the Harrisburg, Pa., company.
The national chain works with local communities if there are specific
concerns about over-the-counter medications, she said. For example, it
limits the number of packages of products with ephedrine that it will sell
to one customer because the drug is used to make methamphetamine.
Effort to educate adults Executives at Schering-Plough HealthCare
Products, the maker of Coricidin, acknowledge abuse of the drug is a
problem, company spokesman Jim Lawenda said. To combat the problem, the
company has worked with organizations including the Council of Family
Health to advertise the dangers of incorrectly using products that contain
"We do believe that it is very important that parents and educators play a
role in addressing drug abuse with kids at these ages," Lawenda said.
Warden said parents of children who are abusing the drug might notice a
change in the child's behavior and poor school performance.
"It's like any drug," he said. "They won't be acting right and they will