Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jun 2004
Source: News-Gazette, The (Champaign, IL)
Copyright: 2004 The News-Gazette
Author: Kate Clements


SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois House is examining ways to crack down on a
legal drug found in some forms of nonprescription cough medicines
that, when abused, can lead to hallucinations, brain damage and even
death. "This is bad, bad stuff," said state Rep. Chapin Rose,
R-Mahomet. "It's killing people, and it's going to kill more people."
Medicines containing dextromethorphan, sometimes called DXM, are safe
in the recommended doses listed on their packaging, but can be
extremely dangerous in large quantities. Yet some abusers drink half a
bottle or more of cough syrup to obtain a high.

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse and Partnership for a
Drug-Free America, overdosing on DXM can produce nausea, vomiting,
diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, confusion, poor coordination,
rapid heart rate and hallucinations. In some cases, it can even cause
inability to talk or move one's limbs.

Dextromethorphan is available in syrup or pill form in dozens of
over-the-counter cold remedies, and the drug can also be obtained in
pure form over the Internet.

That is allegedly how Austen Eriksen, 18, of Oakland obtained the DXM
he is charged with providing to a rural Hindsboro teen in an apparent
suicide pact in February.

Eric Richardson, 17, died from an overdose of the drug, while Eriksen
was hospitalized for a DXM overdose, but survived. He was arrested May
19 and was charged in Douglas County with two counts of unlawful
inducement to commit suicide, a Class 4 felony.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said there was also a DXM-related
death in his district recently, and that it is apparently a growing
problem around the state.

"We certainly have seen it," said Sharon Hastings, director of
admissions at The Pavilion treatment center in Champaign. "There's
certainly been some cases in the news, and we have seen other cases as
well. It's easily accessible. You don't need a prescription, it's not
a street drug ... the kids can get it easily, basically, and it's
cheap." Douglas County Coroner Joe Victor said DXM is being used to
get high in East Central Illinois and other parts of the country.
"We're seeing a trend that appears that this is becoming a very
popular recreational pharmaceutical in rural America," Victor said.
Rose and Brady sponsored a resolution in the House this week urging
the state to look at ways to limit access to medicines containing DXM.
Since the Food and Drug Administration does not consider
dextromethorphan a controlled substance, the state cannot legally
enact measures to regulate it without special permission from the
federal government, Rose said.

HR 922 requests that the Illinois Department of Public Health study
the use and abuse of dextromethorphan and possible solutions to the
problem, including the feasibility of obtaining a waiver from the
federal government to regulate the substance in Illinois.

The measure passed unanimously in the House on Tuesday. Victor said he
would like to see minors' access to dextromethorphan limited. "It's
like everything else," he said. "It has its place, its medicinal
purpose, if controlled, but I think we're seeing too many youths in
rural America that have discovered this, or rediscovered this, and are
abusing its easy access and the fact that it is not an illegal drug.
We've had too many deaths already."

Hastings said restricting access to medicines containing DXM or
keeping those items behind store counters would probably help some,
but does not address the increasing availability of the drug over the
Internet. "We see a lot of people who have gotten their stuff off of
the Internet," she said. "I don't know how they are going to stop
that." Even when one Web site is shut down, more pop up every day,
Hastings said. 
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