Cold medicine abuse on the rise among teens

By Brittany Liberatore
February 15, 2007

Emily Buerger

Teenagers throughout the country have found a different way to achieve a cheap high; taking over-the-counter cough and cold medicine. A growing population has found that various medicines, such as Robitussin DM and Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold, contain dextromethorphan, which has the ability to cause hallucinations and out-of-body experiences when abused. This problem, also known as “robotripping,” is rising 50 percent a year, according to the California Poison Control System cited in an article in the Los Angeles Times.

New studies have found that approximately 75.4 percent of people who abuse dextromethorphan are between the ages of 9 and 17, according to a report from ABC News. Generally, teenagers purchase and consume an entire four or eight ounce bottle of Robitussin. This can result in slurred speech, drowsiness, hallucinations or a staggered walk.

Todd Lambert, a junior business administration major, is very aware of “robotripping” because he knew many people who did it in high school. Lambert said, “If I need cold medicine I will take it, but otherwise it is disgusting. I can’t imagine drinking a whole bottle.”

There are new reports that two-thirds of abusers favor Coricidin to achieve their high. Taking these pills, also known as “skittles,” can cause similar effects as “robotripping” but can increase heart rate, blood pressure and cause seizures. Coricidin not only contains dextromethorphan but also an antihistamine called chlorpheniramine.

Those who abuse dextromethorphan can use online calculators to learn how large of a dose to consume to achieve a high. They simply enter their weight and type of medicine they are using and the “correct” dosage appears.

“I think that it is wrong to have those calculators because it is only helping the people who are abusing the cold medicine,” Lindsay Nave, a junior psychology major, said.

Many believe that dextromethorphan has become popular among teenagers because it is legal and inexpensive. Dextromethorphan is also easy to find because it is in over 100 cold medicines.

To help lessen the accessibility of cough and cold medicines, many pharmacies place certain medicines behind the counter. The CVS in Wayne, for example, keeps any cough and cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine behind the counter. Pseudoephedrine is found in medicines, such as Extra-Strength Robitussin. However, there are other types of cough and cold medicines that are sold over the counter at the CVS in Wayne.

In some cases abusers don’t get off with just achieving a high, they receive a more permanent result, death. Although there are only five known cases of death from abusing cough and cold medicines, the threat is still realistic.

Brittany Caprice, a junior elementary education major, thinks that people don’t realize how much danger they are in when they take too much medicine. Caprice said, “Medicines are made to help people, but when people abuse them all they are doing is harming themselves. I think it is ridiculous.”

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Brittany Liberatore

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