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10-29 Psychiatric side effects of medication: Deadly cough medicine abuse among teens

Psychiatric side effects of medication: Deadly cough medicine abuse among teens

The ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM), which is commonly found in over-the-counter cough and cold medications, has been linked to significant harm if misused, especially among teens. For parents and adolescents alike, learning the deadly consequences of DXM abuse is necessary for instilling preventative measures.

Cough medicine abuse stats

The substance’s potential for abuse is heightened by the fact that it can be purchased without a prescription. In fact, DXM has surpassed codeine as the most popular cough suppressant in the United States. Current statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) 2014 Monitoring the Future study found 4.1 percent of 12th graders abused non-prescription cough medicine while eighth graders experienced statistically significant changes.

Despite its intended use, abusers of dextromethorphan consume excessive amounts of its syrup, capsule and pill forms while some have even resorted to ingesting it in a concentrated powder. As a result of these trends, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began leading preventative efforts against DXM abuse in 2005, especially after five adolescent fatalities were linked to the synthetic ingredient.

According to a 2010 FDA presentation entitled, “Abuse-Related Pharmacology of Dextromethorphan,” Pharmacologist Katherine Bonson, Ph.D., discussed the five reported deaths and four reported overdoses from DXM. Overall, all incidents involved powered DXM and were either due to DXM toxicity or an adverse combination of multiple drugs.

How abuse damages the brain

NIDA’s 2014 summary of cough and cold medicine abuse outlined how the chemicals, including dextromethorphan, specifically impact the biology of the brain when not taken correctly.

Clinical observations have revealed that DXM interacts with the same cell receptors as hallucinogenic agents, such as PCP or ketamine. Potential symptoms of abuse include:

  • Impaired motor activity
  • Numbness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heightened heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Irritability
  • Intoxication
  • Sensory distortion and hallucinations

Hypoxic brain damage can also occur in rare cases when respiratory depression and a lack of oxygen to the brain become too severe. In most examples of this occurrence, it is a result of mixing DXM with decongestants.

Strengthening DXM prevention in the U.S.

In terms of improving preventative solutions, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) declared that it has backed legislation that would prevent the sale of over-the-counter cough medicines containing dextromethorphan to individuals under the age of 18. The CHPA also stated, “A nationwide ban on sales of cough medicine to minors would lead to a greater decrease in the abuse rate of these medicines by teens, while also maintaining access for the millions of legitimate consumers of these products each year.”

Although a federal ban for minors is still possible in the future, eight states have already taken congressional action on the matter. For example, California was the first state to prohibit the sale of products with DXM in 2012 while the most recent ban took effect July 2015 within the state of Washington.

Over-the-counter drug abuse is just as serious as prescription or illicit abuse. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and other dual diagnosis conditions. Call to speak with a professional today.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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