Diane Blum

Freelance Writer

Medicine Cabinet Highs for Your Teen?
(And How the Internet is Tempting More Kids)

Did you know that “cough medicine abuse” is a big and growing issue for today’s teens? Parents may be focused on the danger signals of marijuana, alcohol and other illegal drugs…they may have instituted rules and checks relating to those concerns; and given there has been a lot of press about teens using “prescription drugs” at parties and such, parents may be being diligent with locking up anything they view as “serious” or “potent”…but how many of us are keeping an eye on the very boring family medicine cabinet? Current research has shown that 1 out of 10 teens has abused cough medicine to get “high”! (That’s millions of teens, by the way) That shocked me…does it shock you?
So what is the big deal? Something called DXM, or dextromethorphan, which is a common active ingredient in many over the counter (OTC) cough and cold meds. DXM is safe and effective at recommended doses, for most teens, in relieving cold/cough symptoms. But taken in large doses, to produce a high, it can be quite dangerous. It can cause dizziness, confusion, disorientation, lack of sensory control, actual hallucinations, rapid heart beat, etc. Because most cold/cough medicines containing DXM also often contain things like acetaminophen and/or decongestants, abuse can lead to serious side affects for those drugs such as liver damage, respiratory issues, dangerous increases to blood pressure and even brain damage. DXM abuse symptoms can also be worsened if the kid takes other prescription meds (their real prescribed ones for pre-existing health issues they may have), has existing respiratory issues and/or is abusing other drugs/substances such as alcohol.
There are over 100 OTC medications that have DXM, identified in their labeling with a “DM” or the words “cough suppressant”. Most can be purchased at the local grocery or drug store (although some stores do keep this type of medicine behind their counter as it is often shoplifted by teenagers, as well as due to the abuse dangers). Widely available in child-friendly liquid form, gel caps and pills; how much of this is in your medicine cabinet right now? Your kids have grown up taking it. And that is one of the problems, kids are familiar with this stuff…it is viewed as “safe”…and in fact, even parents reactions to their kids abusing cough syrup, “Thank God it is only cough syrup and not some illegal drug” also shows there just isn’t an understanding of the severity of this abuse. Slang names you might hear: Dex, robo, tussin, tripleCs, CCC, Siz’zurp, syrup, velvet, red devils, skittles, the purple drank and more. There are more harmful and potent powder versions of DXM also available online, all your child needs is a Paypal account and they’re good to go.
You can thank the “internet”, and in particular, the popularity of YouTube, for educating today’s teens on the fact that they can use a seemingly “legal” and “safe” medication, easily found in their homes, to get high. Sure, this stuff (cough syrup abuse, glue sniffing, whatever) has always been done by some segment of teens. I can remember back in high school there was a group of kids who hung out in the orchard next to the school, smoking (I thought). If they were getting high on cough medicine, I wasn’t getting word of it, because the technology of getting that info out to people other than word of mouth to your (limited) circle of acquaintances just wasn’t there…but now, given the reach of the internet and the boldness of the postings, it has become much more widely known and even, perhaps, is in danger of becoming “hip” subculture to kids who would otherwise be oblivious, not interested or not willing to take the risk of trying it. Even back in 2005, according to a PEW study, 75% of teens viewed video from a video-sharing site like YouTube…imagine how many teens are seeing these videos today. And who out there has a teenager who isn’t regularly posting to a social networking site, or getting instant messages, etc. Temptations abound.
I went on to YouTube and did a few searches…suffice it to say I was shocked. Do a search on “robotripping” (a slang for taking cough/cold medicine to get high, the name derived from the common cough syrup brand, Robotussin), and there are videos galore…many showing young teens basically out of their mind after taking large doses of cough syrup or pills… slurred speech, barely able to stand up, talking about aliens taking them over…very funny stuff, I’m sure, to the thousands of teens surfing the net looking for “funny” ways to chill with their friends. But be clear, most kids are not taking this for the “pass-out” buzz factor, they are taking it for the hallucinatory and dissociative effect that it causes in large doses, much like the effect of PCP. Even more frightening were the many videos and blogs available, with postings by robotrippers, discussing their recommended dosage of this “poor man’s X” based on the weight of a teen, to get “safely” high!
Robotripping information online illustrates the best and worst of the internet. The worst is the fact that our kids are exposed to this stuff every day, it may fuel their curiosity (or create curiosity where there was none in the first place!) and it may provide highly inaccurate information about the true danger of abusing seemingly safe medicines found in the home. The best is that there is also a wealth of info online that can help arm parents with insight that could be helpful…and could even save their kid’s life.
So, parents…be forewarned and do some research…Monitor the OTC drug cabinet in your home, keep on eye on internet sites your teens are spending a lot of time on, and talk with your kids about the dangers of cough-medicine abuse. Go to one of the many good medical or parenting sites available online to learn more about the signs to look for as well as tips for parents to talk with their teens. One good site to spend time on with your teen, www.abovetheinfluence.com . And while you are getting rid of or locking up all that over-the-counter DXM medication, spend some time focused on all those prescription medications you have stored away in your cabinet…prescription drugs is, as more people are aware of, a large – and dangerous - problem with teens as well.
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