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Article Summary

Cough Medicine Abuse

The Problem

Here's the latest dose of reality: It's estimated that one out of 10 teens nationwide—that's 2.4 million kids from all backgrounds and geographic areas—say that they have taken cough remedies to get high. Further underscoring this trend, recent data collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Monitoring the Future" study estimates the intentional abuse of cough medicine among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders is roughly at four percent, five percent, and seven percent, respectively—on par with cocaine.

There are more than 100 OTC medicines that contain DXM, either as the only active ingredient or in combination with other ingredients including Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Cough Medicine, Contac, Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold, Delsym, Dimetapp DM, Mucinex DM, PediaCare cough medicines, certain Robitussin cough medicines, Sudafed cough medicines, Theraflu cold and flu medicines, Triaminic cough medicines, Tylenol Cold medicines, Vicks 44 Cough Relief medicines, certain Vicks Dayquil and Nyquil LiquiCaps, and Zicam, to name a few. Of course, many store brands contain DXM, too.

Decoding Cough Medicine Abuse "Language"

Kids have code names for OTC cough medicines, and it's important for you to know what they are. Among them are "Dex, DXM, Skittles, Syrup, and Tussin." Another is "Triple-C or CCC." Popular expressions for abusing OTC cough medicine are "Robo-tripping, Dex-ing, Robo-fizzing, Smurfing (buying cough medicines from multiple retail stores), and Skittling." Users are sometimes called "syrup heads" or "robotards."

Methods of Abuse

There's no doubt about it, cough medicine abuse is serious, with kids taking excessive amounts of pills or cough syrup, sometimes as much as 25?50 times beyond the recommended doses. In fact, some kids consume up to 80 pills per day. Users sometimes prefer pills over certain syrups because tablets are easier to conceal and consume. Alternately, others prefer the cough syrup, sometimes mixing it with sodas or even alcohol. They call this "Robo-fizzing." An equally dangerous option is that they consume the raw, unfinished DXM ingredient which can be purchased "in bulk" over the Internet.

One of the most worrisome party activities kids participate in is called "pharming." With their friends, they amass pills—including DXM-containing medicines they've collected from home or elsewhere. Often in one sitting, they randomly take handfuls of pills, not caring what they are ingesting, and oblivious to the consequences of taking excessive amounts of medication or the potential danger of combining one drug with another. Of major concern is combining DXM-containing medicines with non-drowsy antihistamines, SSRI anti-depressants and MAOI inhibitors. Combining DXM with these drugs is extremely dangerous and can send young people to the emergency room.

?The "Highs" and "Lows" of Cough Medicine Abuse

DXM abusers say that a cough medicine high is similar to an ecstasy-like high. They may experience mild distortions of color and sound, strong visual hallucinations, "out-of-body" sensations, confusion, slurred speech, and the loss of motor control. Other serious side effects can include:

—? Delusions
—? Panic attacks
—? Memory problems
—? Blurred vision
—? Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
—? High blood pressure and rapid heart beat
—? Numbness of fingers and toes
—? Drowsiness and dizziness
—? Fever and headaches
—? Rashes and itchy skin
—? Loss of consciousness

The effects can be worsened if the DXM-containing cough medicine being abused also contains other ingredients to treat more than just coughs, and, as described above, if used in combination with other medications, or taken with alcohol and illegal drugs.

Cough Medicine on the Internet

Hundreds of web sites and online communities promote the abuse of DXM-containing products. Some of these sites provide guides on how to achieve a high based on an user's height and weight; how to combine DXM-containing medicines with other drugs; and what effects are to be expected at specific dosage levels. Some web sites serve as dangerous online drug dealers. The frightening reality is that kids can log-on to these sites, purchase large amounts of pure DXM with only a credit card or PayPal and shipping address, and packages arrive at their door step.

Web sites promoting DXM abuse information are not the only online sources providing dangerous content to kids. Social networking sites such as MySpace, YouTube, LiveJournal, and Facebook are filled with detailed instructions, user conversations, and videos of DXM abuse. Users blog and post videos about specific plans to take DXM, how and when they will take it, and even recounts of the abuse itself. Through these outlets, users actively compare notes, exchange approaches, and promote abuse.

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