Buono Wants To Stop Kids From Getting High On Cough Medicine

EDISON – At a news conference at Edison High School last week, State Senator Barbara Buono unveiled legislation she is sponsoring with Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., to stop children from purchasing some cough and cold remedies.

The bill will require customers to be at least 18 years old to purchase over-the-counter cough and cold remedies containing dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient which, when abused by teenagers seeking to get high, can have potentially lethal consequences.

 “New Jersey needs to step up and address this very serious danger to the health and safety of our teenage sons and daughters,” said Buono, D-Metuchen.  “DXM abuse can have lasting and potentially fatal consequences for teenagers who misuse this legal, inexpensive, and easily accessible substance in order to achieve a high. By instituting common-sense limitations on who can purchase products containing DXM, we can reduce the risk that our children will add to the growing number of tragic statistics.”

The bill, which will be formally introduced when the Senate reconvenes this fall, would require cashiers to verify that a customer is at least 18 before selling them any over-the-counter product containing DXM.  DXM is a cough suppressant used as a common ingredient in more than 100 over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, including Robitussin, Vicks, Dayquil, and other popular brands.

When used appropriately, DXM has proven to be safe and effective in alleviating symptoms associated with the common cold or flu.  However, at extremely high doses, it can cause vomiting, disorientation, hallucinations, muscle spasms, delirium, cardiac damage, permanent brain damage, coma, and in severe cases, death.

 “Many kids are turning to cough medicines containing DXM to get high because it’s cheap and legal, and much more accessible than alcohol or illegal drugs,” said Kean, R-Westfield.  “However, these kids don’t know that, at high enough doses, over-the-counter drugs can be as deadly as overdosing on illegal drugs.  Our legislation would keep products containing DXM out of the hands of children who may not appreciate the serious health consequences of over-the-counter drug abuse.”

Though DXM has been abused by teenagers since the 1960s, health officials have recently noted an alarming increase in usage among children between the ages of 9 and 17.  This increase may be due to promotion on web sites glorifying drug abuse, as well as on social networking websites in which teens post videos of themselves “robo-tripping” (being high off of Robitussin).

According to the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, 205 teenagers in New Jersey were treated for exposure to DXM last year, and 107 have been treated so far this year.  In terms of contrast, 70 teenagers in the State were treated for DXM abuse in 2000.  The Partnership for a Drug Free America estimates that one in ten teens – approximately 2.4 million nationwide – have experimented with cough medicine to get high.

“While technology has brought about many advances, one downside is that some kids have a bigger forum to share bad ideas,” said Buono.  “Anyone can access YouTube on their computer and, by typing ‘robo-tripping’ into the search engine, find literally dozens of videos of kids high on cough medicine.  We need to cut off the source of this latest trend in drug abuse before tragedy strikes in the Garden State.”

The lawmakers noted that the risks of DXM abuse are real, and potentially lethal.  In 2006, a 16-year-old Anaheim, Calif. student named Lucia Martino died from liver failure after ingesting 20 over-the-counter cough suppressant tablets to get high.  And last year, an 87-year-old Yonkers, N.Y. man named Anthony Vieiro died in a car accident with a young driver who was under the influence of DXM at the time.

Closer to home, Ashley Angalet, an Edison High School student, suffered from severe adverse effects after taking the drug recreationally and was sent to the emergency room. Ashley and her mother, Sheila, were on hand at the news conference to tell their story as a warning to other teenagers considering taking cold medicines to get high.

 “I applaud Ashley for having the courage to tell her story as a warning to other teenagers,” said Buono.  “By raising awareness of DXM abuse and making sure that only responsible adults can purchase products containing DXM, we will save lives in New Jersey, and hopefully, bring this latest trend in drug abuse to a halt.”

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