LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
In this country, lawmakers are considering how to crackdown on what's become a new teenage drug of choice that's readily available at every neighborhood drugstore. Increasingly, kids are getting high on over-the-counter cough medicines and landing in the emergency room.
As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, officials are now looking at ways to keep those products out of the hands of minors.
TOVIA SMITH: They call it Robo-tripping or tripping on Trip C, Robitussin and Coricidin cough and cold are some of the cough medicines that contain the Dextromethorphan or DXM that kids are using to get high.
Unidentified Man #1: We've all taken a bottle of DXM.
Unidentified Man #2: It feels like there's G-force in a zip, unexplainable…
SMITH: Kids like these have been getting high on cough medicine for decades, but abuse has been fueled lately by the Internet that offers kids plenty of what they call trip tips and real live demonstrations like these home videos posted on YouTube.
(Soundbite of YouTube video)
Unidentified Woman #1: I'm so gone right now.
Unidentified Woman #2: But why?
Unidentified Woman #1: It doesn't really hurt you.
SMITH: DXM abuse has also been fueled by the advent of high-dose DXM caplets that make it easier to swallow. Taken at 30 or 50 times the recommended dosage, DXM, also known as poor man's PCP, can cause vivid hallucinations.
(Soundbite of YouTube video)
Unidentified Woman #3: Oh my God. Did you see it?
Unidentified Woman #4: Uh-huh. I want to hold it.
(Soundbite of screaming)
Unidentified Woman #3: Oh, my God.
SMITH: While videos like these tend to glorify DXM trips, more and more kids are getting into serious trouble with overdoses, especially with what they call skittle parties, where kids mixed the little candies together with a bunch of Coricidin caplets and have no idea how much DXM they've actually taken.
(Soundbite of YouTube video)
Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #2: You'll be fine.
Unidentified Man #1: I need to call (unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #2: You're fine (unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #1: (unintelligible)
SMITH: A report by the Partnership For A Drug-Free America says one in 10 kids have used DXM to get high, and the number is climbing especially among kids 12 to 17.
Mr. STEVE COLE (Paramedic, Boise, Idaho): Every weekend, you know, at house parties we've seen this done during school hours. We've seen this done while they've been they've been driving home from school. This is American suburbia and this is rampant here.
SMITH: Steve Cole is a paramedic in Boise, Idaho, a community that became acutely aware of the DXM problem when six middle-school kids all ended up in the ER in one weekend.
Mr. COLE: They can be sitting there. They can be talking to you and just kind of goofy and drunk appearing. And then a minute later, they can be seizing and not breathing. You know, they have no idea what they are getting into when they do this drug.
(Soundbite of public education campaign video)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) There's a frightening new kind of drug abuse creeping into our neighborhoods.
SMITH: A new public education campaign has just been launched by the Partnership for Drug-Free America and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association that represents manufacturers of the cough medicines.
Linda Suydam is the association's president.
Ms. LINDA SUYDAM (President, Consumer Healthcare Products Association): We believe the solution to this is education. Parents need to be aware of what's going on. They need to monitor their medicine cabinet, just like they monitor their liquor cabinet.
SMITH: But many say education is not enough. Rhode Island is one of the half dozen or so states looking to ban sales of DXM products to minors.
State Senator LEO BLAIS (Republican, Rhode Island): People are taking these things like candy, and we know we want to do something to control the availability of the product that kids are abusing.
Rhode Island State Senator Leo Blais, who also happens to be a pharmacist, says he wants to go even further and require the most potent DXM products like the Coricidin caps to be kept behind the counter. He's already done it in his store, despite objections from the drug's manufacturer.
Senator LEO BLAIS (Republican, District 24, Rhode Island): They don't want to be singled out, but, you know, they have the products that have the most Dextromethorphan, and probably by far, the most abused dosage form.
SMITH: The makers of Coricidin, Schering-Plough, say they support bills banning sales to minors. But they do oppose efforts that would move all DXM behind the counter. Stores who sell their products agree.
Ms. MARY ANN WAGNER (Senior Vice President, National Association of Chain Drugstores): That is way over the line. That's just not necessary.
SMITH: Mary Ann Wagner is with the National Association of Chain Drugstores. She says the federal government was right last year to require stores to keep pseudofedrin(ph) products behind the counter because those drugs were being used to make methamphetamine, a very addictive and illegal drug. But she says Dextromethorphan is a different story.
Ms. WAGNER: Many products in a drugstore could be abused - hair spray, glue, a number of different things. So it's not really fair, you know, to penalize the product.
SMITH: Wagner says many of her members have voluntarily banned sales to minors, but many lawmakers are skeptical. Lynn Nowick, a county legislator from Long Island, New York, has sponsored a bill that would impose stiff finds on stores that sell to kids under 18.
Ms, LYN NOWAK (Republican County Legislator, Suffolk County, New York): I hate to say it but a voluntary ban does not work. It's a business for them.
SMITH: Suffolk County is likely to pass its mandatory ban in the next few weeks, but Nowick notes, parents still need to get a clue because the ban won't stop kids from shoplifting the medicines or simply taking them from home.
Tovia Smith, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.