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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2002 - Updated: 1 year ago

Counselors try to suppress buzz of cough tablets

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Teens carrying Coricidin tablets or other cough medication might be chasing a high, not fighting a cold.

That's the message from drug prevention experts who say some teens in Ohio and Michigan are taking the drugs in large quantities to get LSD-like “highs.”

“They're taking eight to 20 [Coricidin] pills at a time. They get high off it,” said Bill Geha, a drug counselor for the Sylvania School District. “Several kids have overdosed on it.”

Mr. Geha, who is education committee chairman of the Lucas County Community Prevention Partnership, said he began noticing the problem intensify the last two years. This year a partnership-administered survey of Lucas County students added a question about cough-medicine abuse. Results are expected next month.

Coricidin, which is available in many forms, has been the most popular cough medicine for teens to abuse, Mr. Geha said.

Teens often refer to the drug by one of a variety of nicknames, including DXM, Triple C, robo, skittles, dex, tussin, and Vitamin D.

The forms of Coricidin that concern experts are those that contain dextromethorphan. Cough syrup containing the substance have been abused for years, but tablets containing the drug can be far more potent.

No deaths have been reported locally from abusing the drug, but in large quantities they can be deadly. Symptoms of abuse include hallucinations, confusion, excitation, increased heart rate, elevated temperature, dry mouth, slurred speech, and seizures.

The tablet form of the drug have several lures for abusers:

  • Their small size makes them easy to steal. Some pharmacies have placed the drugs behind the counter to prevent theft.

  • Because the drugs are a common cough medication and are sold over-the-counter, they don't raise suspicion from parents or other adults.

  • Cough syrup taken in large quantities can cause upset stomach.

    While cough-medicine abuse is catching the attention of some drug prevention officials, most parents are unaware of the problem.

    “You worry a lot about violence, illegal drugs, tobacco. The idea of over-the-counter medicines is not something you consider as a problem. And many times parents [are] totally unaware of this issue,” said Alvin Stephens, director of health and physical education for Toledo Public Schools.

    While parents might be unaware, they've got lots of company.

    The abuse of Coricidin tablets “is something that's relatively new and unique, and not even much is known about it in the health professions,” said Dr. Earl Siegel, co-director of the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center. The center serves about half of Ohio, including the Toledo area. He said though cough-medicine abuse doesn't appear to be widespread, “usually with abuse, we kind of only see the tip of the iceberg.”

    “It's not like it's an epidemic,” but it is being abused in northwest Ohio, said Bruce Johnson, director of chemical dependency for Connecting Point of Toledo, which treats teen substance abusers.

    Some local pharmacists said they hadn't noticed any problems. However, some have taken precautions such as placing the drug behind the counter. Spokesmen for pharmacies in Kroger and The Pharm said they don't have company-wide policies on placing cough medicine behind the counter, but individual pharmacies can do so if they feel it's necessary.

    School-based drug abuse prevention officials are often the first to notice abuse problems, but the situation varied widely among districts questioned. Drug prevention officials in the Sylvania, Toledo, and Monroe school districts said cough medication is being abused. Their counterparts in other districts, including those in Perrysburg, Sandusky, Defiance, Bowling Green, and North Baltimore said they hadn't heard of any problems.



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