Pubdate: Sun, 10 Oct 2004
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2004 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Rebecca Dana, Washington Post
Bookmark: (Youth)


Teens Using Prescription Drugs, Over-The-Counter Cold Remedies To Get High

WASHINGTON - At CVS pharmacies, you now have to be at least 18 to buy
Coricidin Cough & Cold medicine.

At Walgreens, there's a three-pack limit on an extra-strength variety
of those pills. And at some independently owned drugstores, syrup
bottles and blister packs of cough suppressants have vanished from
shelves and reappeared behind the counter, near the cigarettes or the
prescription drugs.

The nation's pharmacy giants are taking precautions in response to a
trend that doctors and anti-drug abuse activists say could grow into
an epidemic: Teenagers and young adults are using medicine to get high.

There are other, darker signs. One morning in May, on a lark, five
ninth-graders in Loudoun County, Va., swallowed a "cocktail" of
Coricidin and the motion-sickness drug Dramamine. Nauseated and loopy,
they were rushed to Loudoun Hospital Center, where an emergency room
physician explained that the drugs -- considered safe when used as
intended -- can be fatal in very large doses.

 From acid to Ecstasy, patterns of substance abuse have evolved with
the times, and in recent years, illicit use of prescription and
over-the-counter drugs has soared among a certain demographic --
mostly suburban, mostly young and mostly middle-class, according to
researchers. They get the drugs through the Internet, at school and
from their parents' medicine cabinets.

"We feel this is going to be the next big wave of substance abuse in
the country," said Steve Dnistrian, executive vice president of the
Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "It's limited to no one
prescription drug or over-the-counter drug."

That data, to some, are startling. Prescription drugs are now second
only to marijuana as a category of illicit substance abused by
teenagers, according to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and
Health. The number of teenagers calling into poison-control centers
nationwide about cough medicine abuse has doubled in four years.

In a survey of more than 7,000 teenagers by the Partnership for a
Drug-Free America, one in five reported taking a prescription
painkiller without a doctor's prescription. "Prescription drug use is
all over the place," said Chrissy Trotta, a student at George
Washington University who founded a campus group aimed, in part, at
preventing such behavior. "Often painkillers, things like Vicodin, are
mixed with other drugs ... It's a tremendous problem."

The motivation is often boredom and a sense of rebellion -- not unlike
what motivated drug users of their parents' generation, according to
interviews with more than a dozen Washington area high school students
and an equal number of college students from across the country. Most
spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from
their parents and their schools.

Alex Kaplan, 17, a high school senior from Anne Arundel County, Md.,
said he has never used prescription or over-the-counter drugs to get
high, but that abuse of both is prevalent among some of his peers.

"When it comes to Robitussin," he said, "it's not like what you would
drink if you had a cold, but kids, like, actually drinking half a
bottle or 75 percent of the bottle."

The mix of abused medicines has changed. Quaaludes, a type of
sedative, are no longer widely available, but today's college students
sometimes encounter punch bowls filled with drugs such as the
painkiller Percodan, at parties, said Andrea Barthwell, deputy
director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control
Policy. And unlike their parents, young people can sometimes get those
drugs through online pharmacies.

In response, the Bush administration unveiled an anti-drug policy this
year that focused on prescription drug abuse. The plan would dedicate
nearly $150 million to augment prescription monitoring programs, to
train physicians to combat abuse and to establish education programs
on the dangers of taking such drugs recreationally.

Each category of medication has negative side effects. "Robotripping"
- -- one of the terms for abusing dextromethorphan, the active
ingredient in cough medicines such as Robitussin -- can cause
hallucinations, and it's almost always accompanied by the unpleasant
symptoms of overdose, such as vomiting, said Rose Ann Soloway,
clinical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center.
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