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When it comes to drug abuse, what often comes to mind are the illegal kind, sold on the street or passed around nightclubs or parties. But a dangerous new trend has emerged, making it possible for individuals to get high anywhere and anytime, and to do so legally. It's done by using over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, the kind available at any convenience mart or grocery store. Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressant and one of the active ingredients in many over the counter cold medications. Abuse of drugs containing dextromethorphan are potentially harmful and may result in death, according to a recent report by the U.S. FDA .The FDA advises of many recent reports of teenage deaths that may have been associated with the consumption of encapsulated pure dextromethorphan in powdered form. The FDA warns that, although dextromethorphan is generally safe at recommended doses, abuse can lead to many serious adverse side effects.
Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is widely available and has replaced codeine as the most widely used cough suppressant in the United States. Over half of the over the counter drugs on the market, more than 125 products, contain dextromethorphan. Most commonly, though, the source used for DXM abuse is "extra-strength" cough syrup, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), though capsules, liquid gel capsules, lozenges and tablet forms may also be used. (Capsules containing dextromethorphan are becoming increasingly popular with teens, as they're easier to ingest in large quantities than the liquid form.) Another disturbing new trend involves the sale of pure DXM in powdered form that is often encapsulated by the 'dealer' and offered for street use, according to the FDA. DXM is also sold, often in bulk "pure" powder form, over the Internet. Dextromethorphan (DXM), when formulated properly and used in small amounts, can be safely used in cough suppressant medicines. Abuse of dextromethorphan can cause death as well as other serious adverse effects such as brain damage, seizure, loss of consciousness, and irregular heart beat. Some individuals take the drug, sometimes downing two boxes of cough pills at a time, for the mild euphoric and hallucinogenic effects. The effects vary with dose, and dextromethorphan users describe a set of distinct dose-dependent "plateaus" ranging from a mild stimulant effect with distorted visual perceptions at low doses to a sense of complete dissociation from one's body at high doses. Even more concerning is that when dextromethorphan is taken in medications that also contain antihistamines or decongestant ingredients, such as Coricidin Cough & Cold (known by DXM users as "Triple C", the effects become increasingly dangerous.
Even though the over the counter drug dextromethorphan and other OTC cold meds are readily available to teens, parents play a large role in whether or not a child chooses to abuse such drugs. Parents should talk with their child about the dangers of abusing OTC medications containing dextromethorphan. They should also keep track of over the counter medications in the home. Parents can also safeguard against DXM abuse by monitoring the teen's internet use, and watching out for signs that he or she may be visiting DXM-related web sites. Most importantly, if a parent confirms that the teen is abusing OTC's containing the powerful drug dextromethorphan, they should seek out a treatment program immediately.