View Single Post
Posts: n/a
Default 07-14-2007, 08:13 AM

The deputy director of the Dept. of Health used an informal survey to find out how significant the problem was in the state.

CHEYENNE - Rodger McDaniel had heard stories of increasing abuse of cough syrup by teens before, but one phone call got his attention.

A cashier at a grocery store rang up the deputy director of the state Department of Health.

She said she had a mother and her teenage son come through her check-out aisle that day. They had two bottles of cough syrup.

"She said to the cashier, 'My son goes through this stuff like water,'" McDaniel recalled. "The cashier was concerned that parents needed to be made aware of what the risks are."

That prompted McDaniel to take an informal survey of law enforcement and substance abuse treatment staff in Wyoming.

What he learned persuaded him it is a significant problem in the Cowboy State.

But it is not a problem that is easily measurable because:

- The drug in cough syrup and cold medicines - detromethorphan, or DXM - is legal, inexpensive and easily obtained.

- Surveys usually used to track youth drug use don't ask about it.

- Nor does it show up on the drug screens used in court-ordered treatment programs. That leads many youths enrolled in these programs to abuse it.

But it is certainly a problem in Wyoming.

One sheriff told McDaniel of a young man who died of a drug overdose from other drugs. But he began with cough syrup.

And McDaniel has heard many other stories.

"We decided we wanted to make an effort to educate parents so they are more aware and watchful in the event they have children that are using cough syrup excessively," he said.

In Cheyenne, the problem doesn't seem to be as bad as it was a few years ago, said Tom Kirk, a resource clinician at Behavioral Health Services at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

Though he saw an overdose from cough medicine just last week, he personally has seen only five cases in the past five years.

Karen Nielsen, team leader/therapist at Peak Wellness Center, said she hasn't seen any instances of cough syrup abuse, but she knows others in her practice have.

Still, even a single overdose is dangerous and unnecessary.

In one case several years ago, Kirk saw four teens show up at the emergency room at once hallucinating and delusional.

They all had overdosed on cold medicine.

"It's a cheap high," he said, "(and) probably one of the top five fastest-growing drug problems in the country."

Police in Cheyenne have seen the problem too.

What often tips the police off to the problem in the Capital City, said Lt. Rob Korber of the Cheyenne Police Department, is a car crash or shoplifting.

In one instance a year or two ago, a youth abusing cough syrup got into a car crash while on the drug. Or police have discovered teens who tried to steal eight to ten bottles of cough syrup.

"Some of the stores are contemplating moving that off the counter because they lose so much through shoplifting," Korber said.

But since the drug is legal, police often can make only a referral to a treatment center if called, he added.

Joan McVoy, education nurse at the Nebraska and Wyoming Poison Control Center, says her agency get calls about overdoses of the cold medicine frequently.

In 2006, it got 576 from both states - more than one a day on average - while in 2005 it took 793 and in 2004, 746.

DXM causes visual hallucinations and a heightened sense of awareness, McVoy said.

But it can also be dangerous in high doses on its own or when mixed with other drugs like acetaminophen or antihistamines, as it often is. The former can damage the liver; the latter can raise blood pressure and heart rate and cause seizures.

With enough cold medicine, some users have died.

Because cough syrup makes those who take it sick due to the quantity required to get high, some have resorted to pill forms of the drug, she said.

Often, teens don't realize that just because drugs are sold over the counter, they are not safe in high doses.

"They think they're just taking a cough-and-cold medication," she said. "(But) you run into all sorts of risks when you take these medications."
Reply With Quote