To the editor:
Although alcohol and tobacco use continue to have a devastating
affect on our youth, a new and alarming trend among teens is
creeping across America, affecting communities like ours everywhere.
There are code names for it: Skittles, Robo, Triple Cs, Dex, Tussin
and Vitamin D, to mention a few. It is the practice of getting high
by taking excessive doses of over-the-counter cough medications.
These are the same remedies that we commonly stock in our medicine
cabinets and are readily available in drugstores and supermarkets
The "high" is caused by dextromethorphan, known familiarly as DXM,
and is an active ingredient in more than 100 nonprescription cough
syrups, tablets and gel caps like Dimetapp DM, Robitussin, Sudafed
and Vicks 44. A normal dose of cough medicine is 15-30 milligrams.
Remarkably, kids are sometimes ingesting 25-50 times the recommended
doses in an attempt to get high.
DXM, when used as directed, has a long history of being safe and
effective. However, when taken in large doses, it can produce a
hallucinogenic high, along with dangerous side effects, caused by
the DXM itself or other active ingredients in the medicine. Among
them are stomach pain and heart problems, as well as delusions,
depression, high blood pressure, loss of consciousness, nausea and
vomiting, numbness, rashes, and seizures.
Certainly as a community, we want to ensure that over-the-counter
cough and cold medicines containing DXM remain accessible to those
who need them. However, the potential for abuse among youth demands
our immediate attention. Toward that end, the Logan County Alcohol,
Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force, a local coalition comprised of
local organizations and concerned individuals, is working together
to educate the parents, youth and the community on over-the-counter
Authorities tell us that DXM overdoses typically occur in
clusters, as word about the "high" spreads in a community's middle
and high schools. According to a recent study, it's estimated that
one out of 10 people aged 12 to 17 -- that's 2.4 million kids from
all backgrounds and geographic areas -- say that they have taken
cough remedies to get high. In our community alone, the Logan County
2008 Illinois Youth Survey showed that 18 percent of eighth-graders
said that they had used over-the counter drugs for a nonmedical
purpose at least once in the past 12 months.
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It is vital that adults, particularly parents, be aware of the
possible signs of abuse. A red flag should be raised if you see your
child making frequent purchases of over-the-counter cough
preparations from the same or different stores, or from the Internet
(for example, note the arrival of unexpected packages); hides cough
medicine bottles in his or her bedroom; is exhibiting odd behavior;
has declining grades; has a loss of interest in friends and
activities; or is experiencing hallucinations or any of the side
effects mentioned above.
Be vigilant about your medicine cabinets. Know what's in there,
keep track of your medicines, and discard over-the-counter and
prescription medications that you don't need. If you suspect a
problem, immediately contact a local substance abuse prevention and
intervention professional, such as your pediatrician or family
The time is to educate and act is now. Everything depends on it,
for while our children make up only 25 percent of our national
population, they represent 100 percent of our future.
If you are interested in joining in our effort or want more
information, please contact Kristi Lessen, director of the Healthy
Communities Partnership, at 217-732-5066, or come to a monthly Logan
County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force meeting, which is
the second Friday of the month at the Logan County Department of
Public Health at noon.
Camille Springer, Logan County community prevention coordinator
and Logan County ATOD Task Force member
September 08, 2010]
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