Pubdate: Sun, 14 Jan 2001
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2001 The Kansas City Star
Contact:  1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108
Author: Donald Bradley


Teens don't always score drugs in dark corners. Sometimes they get the 
stuff right off the shelf at the neighborhood supermarket or drugstore.

Authorities say a growing number of teen-agers are using over-the-counter 
cold medicines and cough syrup in excessive doses as recreational drugs. 
The appeal is dextromethorphan, an active ingredient of such products as 
Robitussin D and Coricidin D.

The teens are seeking euphoria. What they sometimes get is nausea, 
respiratory distress, slurred speech, sweating and hypertension.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that some overdoses have ended 
in coma and death.

"It's very dangerous," said Barbara Burks, director of substance abuse 
services for Johnson County Mental Health.

Burks warns parents to be on the lookout for packages of cold medicine.

Because of a recent increase in abuse, the DEA last year began monitoring 
sales of products containing dextromethorphan. Otherwise, there's little 
enforcement or regulation, because the products -- like household cleaners 
sometimes used as inhalants -- are legal.

"Even if caught with it, they don't get arrested," Burks said. "We are 
stumped as a society -- you can't take it all off store shelves.

"This is something that has to fall under the jurisdiction of parents. They 
have to monitor what is in the medicine cabinet."

Cold medicines will never replace marijuana and alcohol as teen favorites, 
authorities say, but abusing the remedies is a trend with suburban youths.

Because the medications can be acquired legally, police have no means of 
tracking the breadth of abuse. But Olathe Police Officer Mitch Clark, 
resource officer at Olathe South High School, said three South students 
this school year had adverse reactions from taking excess amounts of 

"It's cheap, and they can walk right into the store and buy it," Clark said.

Numerous Internet sites glamorize the trip, known in teen jargon as DXing, 
Robo-trippin' and tussin'.

Dextromethorphan is used as a cough suppressant. It contains no opiates, 
but current theories say it interacts with the excitatory amino acids in 
the brain.

Teens have been reported to drink three or four bottles of cough syrup in 
one day.

According to the DEA, "The abusers report a heightened sense of perceptual 
awareness, altered time perception and visual hallucinations."

"It was fun," one teen on a Web site said of his first Robo-trip. "But the 
day after, I felt like I was hit by a car."

Nick Penland, lead counselor for Comprehensive Substance Abuse and 
Rehabilitation in Independence, is aware of such abuse in Jackson and 
surrounding Missouri counties.

He said abusers turn to cold medicines when they can't find other 
substances, proving the adage: Dopers do dope.

"It's whatever they can get their hands on," Penland said.

Penland mentioned another advantage of dextromethorphan in the eyes of 
youngsters: "Cold medicine doesn't come back a dirty UA (urinalysis)."

The DEA recently reported that a powdered form of dextromethorphan was 
being sold on the Internet. The agency also advises parents to monitor cold 
medicines in their homes.

Authorities say dextromethorphan comes with a peculiar danger: To 
experience the euphoria, people must take it in amounts far greater than 
the recommended dosage of 15 to 30 milligrams.

The DEA focuses mostly on illegal drugs, and a spokesman there said 
dextromethorphan is under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration.

When asked about reports of growing abuse, an FDA spokesman said: "The FDA 
believes dextromethorphan is safe and effective when used as directed."

Bert McClary, pharmacist consultant for the Missouri Bureau of Narcotics 
and Dangerous Drugs, said dextromethorphan is an effective cough 
suppressant used in dozens of over-the-counter cold remedies. When taken in 
excess, it can cause excitability, stupor and hallucinations.

McClary said the potential for abuse had always been there.

"All it takes is for someone to take a lot of it to see what kind of buzz 
they can get," he said.

"After that, it just grew in popularity." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom