DXM Abuse Among Teens – Deadly Syrup
Dextromethorphan or DXM is a popular active ingredient found in some cough medicines and cold medications. However, some teens have begun to abuse this substance to get high. Ingesting this substance in high dosage seems ridiculous, but teens are doing it to get stoned.
A study conducted in 2008 showed that 1 in 10 American youths has used DXM for recreational purposes. DXM outranks ecstasy, cocaine, meth and LSD in the list of illegal drugs commonly used by teens. High doses of DXM triggers hallucinogenic trips and disrupts a healthy lifestyle.
DXM, which was first marketed in the 1950s, is very cheap and comprises nearly half of all OTC drug sales in the U.S. It’s no wonder that DXM has become the preferred recreational drug among youth. DXM is found in more than 125 medications for flu, cold and cough.
When taken in normal dosage, DXM is generally safe. The drug works on the area of the brain that controls coughing. When taken 10 to 50 times more than the recommended dosage, DXM can lead to hallucinatory and dissociative side effects like those of ketamine (special K) or PCP. Some think that teenagers who gulp cough medicines are after the drug’s alcohol content, but what these teens really want is DXM.
DXM abuse has been around for quite a long time, but its prevalence is alarming. From 1999 to 2004, cases of DXM abuse grew 10 times in California. Cases of DXM abuse among youths aged 9 to 17 increased 15 times. Recent surveys showed that the prevalence of DXM abuse is hovering at stable rates, but it remains a major concern.
What Make DXM Abuse So Popular?
Experts cite several reasons why teens fall into DXM abuse.
- It is fairly easy to procure DXM. There are many government-approved medicines containing DXM. Almost every household has one or two medicines containing this drug. The most commonly abused DXM medications are not cough syrup but tablets like Walgreen’s Flu BP and Coricidin. Tablets are easier to ingest in high dosage.
- DXM comes cheap. Cough formulations with DXM are much cheaper than traditional recreational drugs. DXM addiction can easily be sustained as it does not require a lot of money, not to mention youths’ easy access to cough medicines at home.
- DXM medicines are deemed safer. One of the common misconceptions among teens about DXM is that it is safer than illicit drugs even when taken in high dosage. They feel that DXM would not lead to the same side effects as that of typical recreational drugs in pure form. Since DXM is legal, it is easy to have a ready supply. Teens can take it with them and use it anywhere. Hallie Deaktor, director of public affairs at the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in New York City, says that parents share the same misconception. Parents gets relieved knowing that their teens are using DXM instead of illegal narcotics. These parents are completely ignorant of the harmful effects of DXM abuse.
- DXM is a well known drug. There is a whole subculture rising around DXM. New words are coined to refer to DXM abuse, such as sheeting, robo-tripping, skittling and dexing. Various words are invented to refer to the drug itself like dex, CCCs, robo, red devils, tussin, skittles, velvet and syrup. The Internet offers a lot of guides on abusing DXM, including a comparison of various brands and formulations.
- Parents are unaware of DXM abuse. Surveys showed that 1 out of 5 parents do no mention DXM during their “drug talk” with their teens. Parents are not aware of the fact that a bottle of cough syrup can be used to get oneself high. They can’t imagine that the medicine that their children used to detest when they are kids can be used as a recreational drug.
Undeniably, DXM abuse is very popular among teens and tweens which make them more likely users of illicit drugs. Once they enter college, DXM users tend to look at cough medicine as a mere second-rate recreational drug.
There is now a pure DXM that can be procured by drug addicts. This is used by drug makers when making cough medicines. Pure DXM can be bought in bulk over the Internet from sellers outside the U.S. Dealers can then sell the drug in smaller quantities. Pure DXM poses more serious risks than those of DXM formulations sold over the counter.
Side effects of DXM
Some of the common side effects of DXM abuse are:
- Fever and sweating
- Impaired vision
- Increased and irregular heart beats and blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
- Impairment of mental processes and judgment
- Slurred speech
- Rapid eye movement
- Memory loss
- Hallucinations and dissociative effects
Data complied as of 2004 showed that more than 5,500 people were rushed to the emergency room due to DXM complications. The patients include children as young as 12. There are few cases of DXM-related death. Taking DXM in high amount can be extremely harmful to health. The drug can be fatal when abused along with other medicines or narcotics.
High amount of pure DXM can damage the central nervous system. The risk is higher when DXM is abused with other formulations. Some medicines that contain DXM also have other cough suppressants, antihistamines, decongestants and painkillers that can cause complications when taken in high dose. High amount of acetaminophen, a painkiller, can be poisonous to humans. It can damage the liver and cause stroke, hearth attack and even death.
Studies showed that abusing government-approved medicines makes one more likely to use illicit drugs or abuse alcohol. DXM is considered a gateway drug, according to James E. Lessenger, MD. Lessenger studied the abuse of medicines in California. He say that teens eventually get tired of DXM and look for more potent drugs. When combined with other narcotics like ecstasy, DXM can trigger fatal overheating.
How Can Parents Fight DXM Abuse?
Parents must monitor the use of medical supplies at home. Medicines should be kept from children’s reach. Locking the drug cabinet is a good idea.
Parents should educate their kids about drug abuse. The risks of DXM abuse should be made known to teens. By making them aware of these risks, teens are more likely to use cough medicines with care.