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California Seeks to Curb Cough Medicine Abuse in State

Prescription Drug Abuse
California Seeks to Curb Cough Medicine Abuse in State

California Seeks to Curb Cough Medicine Abuse in State

In late December 2011, California became the first state to try to curb the exploding abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing a powerful cough suppressant by requiring buyers to show proof that they’re over the age of 18 before allowing the sale. The identification check is similar to that used for the purchase of alcohol or cigarettes.

The new law makes it an infraction, punishable by a fine of not more than $250, to knowingly sell or give products containing dextromethorphan to anyone under 18.

The story, reported in the San Francisco Chronicle identifies the ingredient as dextromethorphan, or DXM, and it is found in such popular OTC medications as NyQuil, Coricidin, Robitussin-DM, Mucinex-DM and Delsym.

But while the law may help curb some of the sale of such OTC cough medications, it won’t stop the abuse. Many teens will just shoplift the items from store shelves or ask someone else to buy it for them.

What would make the law more effective, say some proponents of tougher controls, is to classify medications containing dextromethorphan as controlled substances, requiring a prescription to purchase, or by mandating that retailers keep such medications behind the counter.

This isn’t altogether unheard of. In 2005, Congress began requiring that decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, which is used in making methamphetamine, be kept behind the drugstore or pharmacy counter. At the time, dextromethorphan wasn’t included, principally because it is abused only by teenagers and isn’t used in the manufacturing process of meth, a highly-addictive and illicit drug.

The history of dextromethorphan abuse by teenagers in California has proven instructive. Since 2003, dextromethorphan has been the most commonly abused substance reported to the California Poison Control system. Sources quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle said that telephone consultations regarding DXM increased 850 percent over the past decade for children aged six through 17.

Nationally, the Consumer Health Products Association (CHPA) and the makers of OTC cough medicines are working to pass federal legislation that would restrict the sale of raw, unfinished dextromethorphan. Additionally, the CHPA supports legislative and retail efforts to implement restrictions prohibiting the sale of OTC cough medicines to minors.

According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, about five percent of teens surveyed said they had abused dextromethorphan in the past year.


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