Pubdate: Wed, 23 Nov 2005
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2005 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Stephanie Slater, Christina DeNardo
Bookmark: (Youth)


When Adrienne Rodriguez walked into a bathroom at her middle school 
Tuesday, she found six girls huddled in a stall, one of them crying, 
shaking and vomiting.

"I went in and said, 'What's wrong?' and she just hugged me and said, 
'Don't tell nobody, don't tell nobody,' " said Rodriguez, 15.

But Rodriguez ran to the cafeteria at Loggers Run Middle School west 
of Boca Raton and told a teacher.

The girl and three other students apparently overdosed on 
over-the-counter cold medication and were taken to West Boca Medical 
Center, authorities said.

The three 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old were listed in guarded 
condition and were expected to be kept overnight for observation, a 
hospital spokeswoman said.

Anxious family members milled around outside the hospital Tuesday 
afternoon talking on and off with a Palm Beach County sheriff's 
deputy. All declined to comment.

Rodriguez said one of the girls in the bathroom said her friend had 
taken 10 pills: five before school and five during school. That teen 
said she had ingested 16 pills, Rodriguez said.

They said the pill "started with a C," the eighth-grader said.

The pill, nicknamed Triple C, is Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold, an 
over-the-counter cold medicine that contains dextromethorphan. Kids 
have nicknamed it skittles, red devils, dex and Vitamin D. When taken 
in excess, DXM can cause hallucinations, out-of-body sensations and 
loss of motor skills.

"These kinds of moments are teachable moments and when it happens, 
good educators use this opportunity to show students the dangers of 
getting involved in using any kinds of drug," said Nat Harrington, 
school district spokesman.

As schools across the nation have stepped up efforts to prevent the 
use of illegal drugs and alcohol, students have turned to 
prescription and over-the-counter drugs for a high.

One in 11 teenagers used cough medicines to get high last year, 
putting it on par with abuse of illicit drugs such as cocaine and 
Ecstasy, according to a report by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

"The problem has gotten way out of hand," said Kim Williams, 
assistant director at the school district's Prevention Center. "We've 
watched it evolve to where they are stealing from their parents' 
medicine cabinets, and they go into the drug stores and steal."

The district doesn't track students' use of over-the-counter 
medicine, but the problem had prompted officials to invite Omar 
Aleman, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, to talk about 
the topic in a televised program for parents next month.

Aleman, who spent 32 years with the DEA, said cough medicine, which 
he likens to a gateway drug, is generally not addictive.

"It gets you high, but it's not a heck of a buzz," Aleman said. "But 
it's the kind of stuff that 11- and 12-year-olds take because it's 
easy to get. It's not something that kids stay on for a long time 
because nowadays kids graduate much faster because there's a 
smorgasbord of drugs."

The Internet has played a significant role in the rising abuse of 
prescription and over-the-counter drugs. On the Web, teenagers can 
learn the active ingredient in cold medicine causes a high that 
includes hallucinations and numbness.

"There's not a lot you can tell kids about drugs," Aleman said. "They 
already know. It's parents that are totally lost."

Bernice O'Hara, whose 12-year-old son attends Loggers Run Middle 
School, had never heard of Triple C. Regardless, she said, she keeps 
all medications locked in a closet with her husband's guns in her 
suburban Boca Raton home.

"It's curiosity and peer pressure," said O'Hara, whose husband is a 
sergeant with the sheriff's office. "Maybe they'll think twice about 
it next time."

Tuesday's incident won't deter use, and in fact will encourage it, 
said Dr. Richard Weisman, director of the Poison Control Center at 
the University of Miami.

"In the next couple of days, we'll have an increase of cases because 
of this," Weisman said. "They're doing it because it's dangerous. And 
a lot of people are learning, 'here's something that I can do.' "

During the past year, 482 people in six Florida counties were 
hospitalized after taking medications containing DXM, Weisman said.

The problem has grown during the past decade, Weisman said.

Nearly 50 percent of teens who participated in a Partnership for a 
Drug-Free America's study said prescription medicines are "much 
safer" than street drugs and said their use is increasing because of 
ease of access. Most said they simply raided medicine cabinets in 
their homes or those of friends.

The American Medical Association, the largest physicians group in the 
nation, has called for legislation that would prohibit the sale of 
over-the-counter medicine to minors.

Pharmacies have started putting cold medicines such as Sudafed behind 
the counter to prevent abuse, and this summer, Walgreen Co., the 
nation's largest drugstore chain, said it would stop selling any 
medications containing DXM to customers under 18.

Aleman, however, said parents and retail stores need to do more.

"You've got to make it harder for them to get these substances," 
Aleman said. "We just don't do enough of that. And it has to start in 
the home."

Adrienne Maas said she speaks openly and frankly with her five 
children about the dangers of drug abuse. She said her ex-husband is 
a drug addict who would spend $300 a night on crack and not care 
whether his children went without food.

Maas said she is proud of her daughter for telling school 
administrators about what she saw in the bathroom. "She did the right 
thing," Maas said.

Rodriguez said her mother's talks made the difference.

"You think you're cool doing it with you friends," Rodriguez said. 
"Look what can happen."

Staff writers Eliot Kleinberg and Susan R. Miller contributed to this story.


Bob Shanley: Timeline Of Abuses

'Triple C': The name 'Triple C' apparently derives from the 
over-the-counter medication, Coricidin Cough & Cold, which comes in a 
red pill form with three letter Cs on the pill.

Scientific name: Dextromethorphan.

Use: A cough-suppressing ingredient found in a variety of 
over-the-counter cold and cough medications.

Abuse: Teens use large doses for the hallucinogenic effects and 
feelings of disassociation.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman