Children's Health: Another Easy and Inexpensive High
The cold-remedy aisle may hold more hazards than you think. Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant common in over-the-counter cold medications, is proving to be a new drug of choice among preteens and adolescents looking for a hallucinatory high.
New research, published today in the December issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found a 15-fold increase in dextromethorphan abuse among California adolescents between 1999 and 2004, based on calls to the California Poison Control System. Researchers say the growth was consistent with an upward trend in two separate national databases.
"There is a [misconception] among many laypeople that if a product is available over the counter that it's not dangerous," says Ilene Anderson, researcher at the School of Pharmacy at the University of CaliforniaSan Francisco and one of the study authors. This perception, along with easy access and relatively low cost, has fueled the growing rate of "DXM" abuse among young people, she says. The study found that nearly 75 percent of calls to the CPCS involved individuals ages 9 to 17, and adolescents ages 15 and 16 showed the highest frequency of abuse. The research also revealed that the combined use by 12- and 13-year-olds was higher than that of 18-year-olds.
Adverse effects of taking high doses include increased heart rate, temperature, and seizure activity. Abuse can also be life threatening, because of compromised respiratory and cardiovascular function, according to Anderson. Another danger: High doses of DXM can interact badly with other drugs, and young users often don't realize the hazards of taking large doses of "hidden" ingredients in the cold medications containing DXM. For example, taking acetaminophen in excess can cause delayed liver damage.
The research found that Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold Tablets was the product most commonly abused, though dextromethorphan is common in a long list of cold medications.
Julie Lux, spokesperson for Schering-Plough, manufacturer of Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold Tablets, says the company is "tremendously concerned" about the abuse and has been aware of the issue for some time now. "But this [new research] does underscore the importance of using the products as directed on the label," she says. Lux says Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold Tablets has been available over the counter since 1951.
In Anderson's opinion, one reason for the upsurge in abuse may be kids' and teens' open access to Internet sites with instructions on how to get high using DXM. She recommends parents and teenagers check out www.dxmstories.org, a website sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America aimed at informing youths about the dangers of abusing the drug.