Buono Wants To Stop Kids From Getting High On Cough Medicine

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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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0 comments for “Buono Wants To Stop Kids From Getting High On Cough Medicine

  1. Daddydoctor
    September 13, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    I’m glad you are bringing this to the publics attention. As a dad and a doctor, I find this a very scary topic.

    Young people often do not fully understand the dangers of taking huge doses of these medicines. They falsely think that because these medications are over-the-counter that they are safe to take.

    Dextromethorphan works on the body in a way similar to narcotics, but it does not affect the breathing centers of the brain like other narcotics until there is a lot of it in the blood stream.

    This problem with dextromethorphan is bigger than just the teen abuse problem. This medication is given to children on a regular basis, but the drug companies have never adequately studied its safety. New studies are showing that certain children (particularly certain minorities) do not metabolize DM well, and so they end up with toxic doses in their blood stream even though the parents gave the “proper dose.”

    I used to think that as long as my patient’s or I dosed the children’s cold & cough medications right, then everything would be OK. But when I researched this further, it turns out that children have died from “over dose” of ALL THE MAJOR CHILDRENS COLD AND COUGH MEDICINES even when given the correct dose (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/108/3/e52?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=cough+medications&andorexactfulltext=and&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT).

    There are alternatives parents can buy to avoid having these cold and cough medications in the house.

    Some researchers from Penn State have shown that Buckwheat honey is better then the OTC children’s cough medicines for children’s cough. There is a web site that talks about this, and gives lots of research to help parents be better informed about how to help their kids. Check out http://www.honeydontcough.com/

    If you are worried about your child, buckwheat honey would be a safe choice to have in your house.

    -Daddydoctor

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