DXM and the threat to public health

Teens are using OTC cough syrup, with DXM as an active ingredient, to get high. While the drug may be legal, its harmful effects are similar to those of illegal drugs.

DXM is known by its street names: Triple-C, Candy, Dex, DM, Drex, Red Devils, Robo, Rojo, Skittles, Tussin, Velvet, and Vitamin D. Those who use the cough syrup to get high are sometimes called "syrup heads," and DXM abuse is often called "dexing," "robotripping," or "robodosing.

Minors and most of the public do not understand that DXM, a cough suppressant, is also a central nervous system depressant. Ingesting large quantities can lead to irregular heartbeats, blackouts, seizure, brain damage, and even death. Minors who ingest combination drugs for recreational purposes - for example, dextromethorphan and acetaminophen - risk developing other complications, such as liver damage, in addition to the effects caused by DXM.

A national survey of 45,000 teenagers conducted in 2010 by the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research indicated that 3.2% of 8th graders, 5.1% of 10th graders, and 6.6% of 12th graders claimed that they had abused DXM during the previous year.

According to WebMD and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, 1 in 10 teenagers say they've used DXM to get high; such a claim would make DXM more popular than LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, or methamphetamine.

In California, the Poison Control System reported that the subject of DXM abuse has been the most common telephone consultation provided to those between the ages of 6 and 17 since 2003.

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Dr. Charles Lee
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