FDA Probes RoboTripping

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - 2:40pm

Panel considers new restrictions to curb cough syrup abuse.

Teens are downing entire bottles of cough syrup in an attempt to get high and now the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to restrict access to such drugs.

It's called "Robo-tripping", referring to the cough medicine "Robitussin" and about 100 other over-the-counter medications that contain dextromethorphan, or DXM.

At least five percent of teens admit to taking eight to 20 times the recommended dosages in an attempt to get high.

"This is a safe medicine, but when you're drinking a whole bottle or multiple bottles of cough syrup, it opens up to a whole host of problems," says Steve Pasierb of Partnership for a Drug Free America. "You can have heart palpitations, seizures, you can lose consciousness altogether."

The number of emergency room visits related to DXM overdoses has risen more than 70-percent since 2004.

Emergency room physician Dr. Thomas Tallman has been on duty when kids have come in after a DXM overdose.

"What we noticed was a pattern that developed in the afternoon about the time school let out," he explains. "First one, then a second, and before we were done seven or eight of these kids that were all high school age."

Representing the cough medicine industry, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association says "These medicines are very safe, abuse is low, and the harm from abuse is rare."

Over-the-counter cough medicines are easily accessible and legal.

Drug abuse experts say that may give kids a false sense of security about taking large amounts.

"This is not a cheap and easy way to get high, and when your kids do this, they're creating as much risk for themselves as abusing illegal street drugs," Pasierb says.

Unlike illegal street drugs products containing DXM are for sale in plain view.

An advisory committee for the Food and Drug Administration will vote Tuesday evening on whether to move the over-the-counter cough medicines behind the counter or make them available by prescription only.

The FDA is not required to follow its advisory committees' recommendations, but usually does.

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