The Dextroverse

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Default 06-15-2004, 06:46 PM

DENVER - Cough and cold medications containing dextromethorphan, or DXM, are becoming increasingly popular among teen-agers and young adults looking for a cheap high, experts say.

There are no national statistics that track fatalities from cough and cold medications. But reports of overdoses of the drugs have risen 74 percent in the last four years, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System. In 2000, poison control nationwide had 2,523 calls about the abuse and misuse of DXM, and 1,623 of those calls involved teen-agers. By last year, that total had risen to 4,382, with 3,271 involving teen-agers.

Dr. Alvin Bronstein, medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center in Denver, said the figures are probably underestimated.

"There is lack of awareness and easy access to these medications," Bronstein said. "Parents need to be more aware because a box of cough preparation wouldn't look that sinister."

The problem has caused some drugstores to put cough and cold medications that contain DXM behind the counter, where they are less accessible. California, New York and New Jersey introduced legislation this year to prohibit sales to minors of products containing DXM, or to restrict the quantities that are sold. The issue of banning bulk sales will be taken up by the American Medical Association at a meeting in Chicago this week.

DXM is an ingredient in more than 125 nonprescription cough and cold medications, including forms of Robitussin, Coricidin and NyQuil. It suppresses coughs by reducing sensitivity in the part of the brain that controls the cough reflex.

Experts say DXM is safe in 15- to 30-milligram doses recommended for treating coughs or colds. But in large doses, 100 milligrams or more, typically taken by recreational users, it can cause hallucinations and feelings of unreality. It also carries a risk of high fever, seizures and other serious adverse reactions. Teen-agers sometimes refer to DXM products as Skittles, Red Devils, Robo or Triple C's. The high that the drugs produce is called "robotripping" or "skittling."

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