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Default 08-10-2004, 09:27 PM

Mother warns of harmful teen use of cold medicine

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
By Kelly Wilson

Herald-Whig Staff

Parents worry about their teens experimenting with alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. But they may not realize that a substance just as dangerous lurks in their medicine cabinet.

Cold medicine.

In high doses, cold tablets and cough syrup that contain dextromethorphan (DXM) can produce mind-altering effects similar to those of PCP and ketamine, and can cause slurred speech, slowed breathing, uncoordinated movements, permanent brain damage, cerebral hemorrhages, stroke and even death.

The dangers are all too real for one area mother.

Diane not her real name said she and her husband learned about their teenage son's addiction to cold medicine when they found several receipts for over-the-counter products.

"But he didn't have a cold," she said.

They confronted their son, talked with him and thought the issue was resolved. But a frightening situation later occurred, requiring a trip to the emergency room.

"This was a life-threatening event," Diane said.

His eyes were rolling back in his head, he was slumped in a chair and could not walk or speak. His muscles were jerking involuntarily and they had to work to keep him conscious to get him to the emergency room.

Once the immediate medical emergency was under control, they realized their son needed help for his addiction and underlying depression.

"This is something he found out through the Net," Diane said of her son's cold medicine abuse. "He went on to Google and put in 'legal highs' or something like that. He was doing it to escape. He wanted to escape the depressed feelings he was having. He wanted to be outside of himself."

She says signs of depression often go unnoticed in teens because parents often think their antisocial, rebellious or moody behavior is normal.

"This same behavior can be the behavior of a depressed teenager, one who really needs help," Diane said. "DXM and alcohol are the directions kids turn for relief from depression and sad feelings."

She and her husband were caught off-guard about their son's addiction because he was a good student, good athlete and had a great group of friends.

They're not alone.

Poison control experts point to a four-fold increase in cough medicine abuse cases since 2000, mostly involving school-aged youth and young adults.

While the abuse of non-prescription cough medicines is not widespread, it has become "a growing problem," says Melissa Miller, a clinician at Great River Recovery Resources in Quincy. "I see it quite more frequently than we used to."

The easy accessibility and affordability of cold medicines may be a reason a teen would use DXM also called Robo, Skittles, Triple-C and Tussin as his or her drug of choice.

"Kids have to know somebody to get alcohol, meth or PCP, but they can just go into Walgreens or Wal-Mart and buy this," Diane said. "It's so accessible and it's a real easy thing for them to do."

DXM is found in more than 120 over-the-counter medications, including Coricidin HBP and Robitussin, and is a safe and effective cough suppressant when used according to directions. But much larger doses produce a high that some teens crave.

The recommended dose as a cough suppressant is 15 to 30 milligrams, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web sites promoting DXM use show that abusers are consuming anywhere from 100 to 1,800 milligrams during their "trips."

Miller says teens seem to prefer using Coricidin HBP, which has 30 milligrams of DXM per tablet.

"People are taking six, eight up to 14 tablets at a time," she said. "At those doses, it becomes very lethal. There have been several cases of kids dying from this."

Miller says DXM can become extremely addictive both physically and psychologically over a short period of time, and withdrawal effects are severe, similar to heroin withdrawal.

She says parents should be on the lookout for excessive packets of cold medicine or cough syrup, and should monitor Internet use. A number of Web sites promote the abuse of cold medicines, and even explain how many milligrams to take for varying kinds of highs.

Parents also should pay attention to physical warning signs, which include an increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased pupil size, drowsiness, dizziness, slurred speech, unsteady gait, hallucinations, confusion and involuntary rapid eye movement.

Education is another key.

"If we can get kids educated about the dangers of it before they try it, we could prevent deaths and serious injuries," Miller said.

She would also like to see cold and cough medicines that contain DXM moved behind the counter to make it more difficult for teens to buy.

Diane agrees.

"Would it hurt to have this stuff behind the counter, to make it harder for kids to go buy?" she asks.

Legislation has been introduced in three states New York, New Jersey and California that would restrict the sale of products with DXM to minors. Parent groups have called on pharmacies to keep Robitussin and Coricidin behind the counter.

Diane's message to other parents is to be aware that their children could be experimenting with cold medicines or using them as a form of escape from their everyday troubles.

She and her husband feel fortunate that they were able to get their son the help he needed before something more serious occurred. He's been working with a psychiatrist and counselor to treat his depression, and he's making progress.

"There are good indicators he's doing better now," she said.

Contact Staff Writer Kelly Wilson

at [email protected] or

(217) 221-3391
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guitarman Offline
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Default 08-10-2004, 09:28 PM

That's messed up.
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Default 08-10-2004, 09:30 PM

Miller says DXM can become extremely addictive both physically and psychologically over a short period of time, and withdrawal effects are severe, similar to heroin withdrawal.


Opioid users: Please check out both Opioficionado and Opiophile, harm reduction forums for opioids.

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Default 08-10-2004, 11:42 PM

withdrawal effects are severe, similar to heroin withdrawal.
is this true? anyone?

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Default 08-11-2004, 12:11 AM

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Default 08-11-2004, 12:19 AM

No, it's absolutely not true. Medical studies show DXM has no withdrawl (and thus does not produce physical addiction) nor is it specifically prone to producing psychological addiction.

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Default 08-11-2004, 01:15 AM



i like how they fail to mention that its not the dxm that becomes lethal with 14 cccs. idiots.

face it, we live in a society where people need to allieviate their guilt over being shitty greedy, materialistic, and gluttonous, so they do so by pretending they care about "rainforests" and "global warming" and "drug abuse". bitching and lying about drugs just gives them another activity to help divert their attention away from the damage they do to the world, and gives politicians another issue to lie about and waste money on so they can get more votes.

the media sucks.

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Default 08-11-2004, 01:30 AM

Originally posted by kevmanpa@Aug 10 2004, 07:42 PM
withdrawal effects are severe, similar to heroin withdrawal.
is this true? anyone?
what the fuck do you think?

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Default 08-11-2004, 01:32 AM

> i like how they fail to mention that its not the dxm that
> becomes lethal with 14 cccs
It seems to me to be highly questionable that 16 or less CCCs would prove lethal (or even significantly injurious) to the vast majority of users.

This is not an endorsement of CCC use.

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