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Published: Friday, 4/1/2005

An unexpected menace

MOST parents of teenagers know they must remain vigilant against alcohol and illegal drugs. But how many pay attention when a teenager possesses over-the-counter cold medicines? Too few, and that's unfortunate because the abuse of cold medicine is sending teens to hospitals, jails, and even early graves.

Who would think they would have to worry about cold medicine or cough syrup? Yet incredibly, in the last several months, a growing number of teenagers have been hospitalized and even died after abusing them. The abuse of cold medicines with dextromethorphan, or DXM for short, has been blamed for altering some youths' behavior so much that they have become violent and mentally ill.

Internet web sites tell teens how to abuse cold medicine and about the effects it produces. Teens assume it isn't dangerous like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana, but it can be. And although they might try to hide the medicine from their parents, they don't have to risk arrest to buy it. Instead, they can get it from any grocery or discount store pharmacy, no questions asked.

Many cold medicines warn consumers not to drive or operate machinery after taking them, and for good reason. DXM can produce a euphoric state, and too much can adversely affect vision and breathing, cause a fever, coma, or acute anger, and increase the heart rate. Some ingredients in most cold medicines are toxic if taken in large doses.

What is alarming is that while the number of teens abusing DXM doubled between 2000 and 2003 in several states, including Ohio, there is little discussion about the problem. This needs to change, now. Parents and schools must start a dialogue with teenagers before more of them are harmed.

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