Legal But Lethal – Cough Medicine Abuse in Teens

An ingredient found in many cough and cold remedies is finding its
way into the hands of teens intent on using it to get what is described
as a cheap dissociative high.

Dextromethorphan (DXM) – a synthetic ingredient found in more than
125 products including Vicks Nyquil LiquiCaps and Dimetapp DM – is
increasingly being misused by teens with ready access to what is a
legal drug available without prescription.

“When abused, dextromethorphan takes on qualities of a dissociative
drug,” the Canadian Council on Drug Abuse explains in literature to
parents and others. “This means that it produces feelings of detachment
in a person, as well as distorting a person’s perception of sight and
sound.”

A 2008 study found that one in 10 American teenagers has used
products with DXM to get high, making it more popular in that age group
than cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and meth. And although DXM products are
considered safe when taken as recommended, high doses can cause side
effects that include blurred vision, numbness, heart attack, confusion,
dizziness, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and poor coordination.
Longer-term effects are not fully known but are believed to include
depression, liver problems, psychosis, and learning and memory problems.

Watch for Signs of Abuse

Pinsky says it’s important parents recognize that DMX abuse is a
problem that affects teens of all kinds – not just troubled teens.

Parents may think, `not my teen,’ but one in 10
teens report having abused cough medicines to get high and 28 percent
know someone who has tried it,” he says.

  • Empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in the trash of your teen’s room or backpack
  • Boxes or bottles of medication missing from the medicine cabinet
  • Changes in friends, physical appearance, or sleeping or eating patterns
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Hearing your teenager use slang terms associated with DXM abuse
    including Dex, Skittling, Tussing, Robo-Tripping, Triple Cs, Poor Man’s
    Ecstasy, Red Devils, Rome, and Sky, to name just a few.