Report: Cold Drugs Used to Get High
Study Shows 1 in 20 Young People Abuse Cough, Cold Medicines
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 10, 2008 -- More than 5% of adolescents and young adults have used
cough and cold medicines to get high, a federal report issued Wednesday
It warns that 3.1 million children and adults between 12 and 25 years of age
abused over-the-counter cold remedies in 2006, a figure health officials said
should be cause for concern among parents.
Many popular cough and cold medicines use an active ingredient called
dextromethorphan. The drug is approved by the FDA, but in high doses it can
produce a "dissociative" high similar to the one delivered by PCP and
other hallucinogens, according to the report.
The statistics come from a larger government survey on drug abuse that asked
about over-the-counter cold medicine abuse for the first time. The fact that
more than 3 million young persons -- including 4.3% of girls aged 12 to 17 --
acknowledged abusing cold medicines "is a big issue," H. Westley Clark,
MD, director of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration, tells WebMD.
Among survey respondents who said they had abused a number of popular cough
and cold medicines in the past year:
- 31% said they'd misused NyQuil products
- 18% said they'd misused Coricidin products
- 18% said they'd misused Robitussin products
- 39% said they'd misused other over-the counter medications
'Kids All Know About it'
An estimated 95 million packages of cough and cold medicine are sold in the
U.S. each year for a total of $311 million, according to the Consumer Health
Products Association, an industry group. The products are easy to buy
over-the-counter, and many stores don't require proof-of-age ID to buy
"Parents tend to be surprised by (high abuse numbers), but their kids
all know about it," Linda Suydam, CHPA's president, tells WebMD. "All
of the big retailers have voluntary efforts to card people."
If children experience a sudden lack of physical coordination, are
vomiting, or have abdominal pain, abuse "is one thing to have in the
back of your mind," Clark says.
The FDA recently held a series of high-profile hearings looking at whether
cold and cough medicines are safe and effective for widespread use. An FDA
advisory committee in October concluded that the
drugs should not be given to children under age 6.
Suydam says Wednesday's report had "no bearing" on the FDA's ongoing
questions of whether the risks of cough and cold medicines outweigh the
Clark says parents should also keep an eye on unused cold medicines in their
cabinets to be sure they're not being misused. But researchers still don't know
how many youngsters find the products at home vs. buying it at the store.
"The study doesn't reveal that," he says.