Over-the-Counter Cold Medicines Abused by Many TeensJan 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Teenagers are abusing over-the-counter cold medicines at an alarming rate. In large doses, over-the-counter cough syrups and cold pills can be used to induce hallucinations, out-of-body. experiences, and other effects. Shockingly, about 3.1 million people between the ages of 12 to 25—five percent of that age group—have used these potentially dangerous drugs to get high, a U.S. government survey found. While this type of abuse has been known for years, the 2006 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA, sets out the best numbers to date quantifying the problem, officials said.
Recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration has cited the rising popularity of cough syrup cocktails: Prescription, codeine-laced cold medicine mixed with soda or sports drinks. The cocktails go by names such as "Syrup," "Purple Drank," and "Lean" and appeared to enjoy popularity in Southern rap communities. As the trend spread to fans of these rappers, teens started using the more readily available over-the-counter versions of cough suppressants to make more accessible cocktails.
Today's report, based on interviews with almost 45,000 people from ages 12 to 25, provides a small window into the abuse, but doesn’t confirm in what direction the trend is moving, if at all. “The survey tells me that parents need to be very concerned about the over-the-counter medicines that they have in their medicine cabinet,” Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. “And young adults need to be concerned about the effects that over-the-counter cold medications and cough medications have on their functioning,” Westley added.
The abuse was highest among whites—at levels three times greater than that of blacks interviewed and—overall—the level of this type of medication abuse is comparable to levels of abuse with LSD, methamphetamine, or the drug ecstasy in this age group, the agency said. Among those ages 12 to 17, abuse of these drugs was most common among girls, while it shifted to young men among those 18 to 25. Nearly 82 percent of those surveyed also admitted to having had used marijuana, the agency said. Among those surveyed who said they had misused one of these cough and cold medications in the past year, about 30 percent said they used a NyQuil brand product, 18 percent used a Coricidin product, and 18 percent used a Robitussin product. Dextromethorphan—DXM or DM—is a cough-suppressant that has also found other uses in medicine, ranging from pain relief to psychological applications, and is found in over 140 cough and cold medications available without a prescription. Pure dextromethorphan occurs as a powder made up of white crystals, but is generally administered via syrups, tablets, or lozenges. When taken at doses higher than are medically recommended, dextromethorphan acts as a dissociative hallucinogenic drug and can cause disorientation, blurred vision, slurred speech, and vomiting "While increasing attention has been paid to the public health risk of prescription drug abuse, we also need to be aware of the growing dangers of misuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medications, especially among young people," said Terry Cline, the agency's administrator.