By DONNA WARD, Executive director, Substance Abuse Coalition of Collier County
Saturday, August 11, 2007
August is National Over-the-Counter Cough Medicine Abuse Awareness Month.
The Substance Abuse Coalition of Collier County has joined forces with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to educate our community.
When we think about drug abuse, illegal drugs sold on the street come to mind. But, as parents, we need to learn to recognize the risks of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine abuse by our children, while learning how to prevent our children from overdosing on it.
At least 5 percent of middle- and high-school students nationwide have reported abusing OTC cough and cold medicines, especially products containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) found in many cough syrups. Of course, these drugs are sold in our friendly, neighborhood pharmacies and not on the street by a pusher.
Medicines containing DXM are easy to find, affordable for cash-strapped teens and perfectly legal. Getting the dangerous drug is often as easy as walking into the drugstore with a few dollars or raiding the family medicine cabinet. And, because it’s found in OTC medicines, many teens naively assume that DXM can’t be dangerous.
DXM abuse is on the rise, according to recent studies, and easy access to OTC medications in stores and over the Internet may be contributing to the increase. The big difference between current abuse of cough and cold medicines and that in years past, is that teens now use the Internet to not only buy DXM in pure powder form, but to learn how to abuse it. Because drinking large volumes of cough syrup causes vomiting, the drug is being extracted from cough syrups and sold on the Internet in a tablet that can be swallowed or a powder that can even be snorted. Online dosing calculators even teach young abusers how much they’ll need to take, for their weight, to get high.
Common street names for DXM include: Triple C, Candy, CCC, Dex, DM, Drex, Red Devils, Robo, Rojo, Skittles, Tussin, Velvet and Vitamin D. Users are sometimes called “syrup heads” and the act of abusing DXM is often called “dexing,” “robotripping” or “robodosing” because users chug cough syrup to achieve their desired high and the effects cause the individual to walk in a stiff, robotic state.
Although DXM can be safely taken in 15- to 30-milligram doses to suppress a cough, abusers tend to consume as much as 360 milligrams or more. Taking mass quantities can cause hallucinations, loss of motor control and “out-of-body” dissociative sensations. Other possible side effects include: confusion, impaired judgment, blurred vision, dizziness, paranoia, excessive sweating, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, headache, lethargy, numbness of fingers and toes, facial redness, dry and itchy skin, and loss of consciousness, seizures, brain damage and even death.
When consumed in large quantities, DXM can also cause hyperthermia or high fever. This is a real concern for teens who take DXM while in a hot environment, exerting themselves; it becomes even more dangerous when used with alcohol or some other drug.
Parents, you can help prevent your teen from abusing OTC medicines by taking the following proactive steps:
• Lock your medicine cabinet or keep those OTC medicines that could potentially be abused in a less-accessible place.
• Avoid stockpiling OTC medicines. Having too many at your teen’s disposal could make abusing them more tempting.
• Keep track of how much is in each bottle or container in your medicine cabinet.
• Keep an eye out not only for traditional-looking cough and cold remedies in your teen’s room, but also strange-looking tablets (DXM is often sold on the Internet and on the street in its pure form in various shapes and colors).
• Watch out for the possible warning signs of DXM abuse listed above.
• Monitor your child’s Internet usage. Be on the lookout for suspicious Web sites and e-mails that may promote the abuse of DXM or other drugs — legal and illegal.
• Finally, be sure to talk to your kids about drug abuse, and explain that while taking a lot of cough or cold medicine seems harmless, it’s not! Even when it comes from inside the family medicine cabinet or the drugstore, when taken in large amounts, DXM can be just as deadly as any street drug. Even if you don’t think your teens are doing it, chances are they may be or they know kids who are.
To learn more, call the Substance Abuse Coalition of Collier County at 377-0535 or go online to www.drugfreecollier.org.
We’re here to help strengthen the community’s resolve to decrease juvenile substance abuse through increased education, prevention services and support.