Arizona kids may no longer buy most kinds of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines unless they have a prescription.
Arizona on Thursday became the fifth state in the country to enact a law prohibiting minors from purchasing products with dextromethorphan (DXM) in them without a prescription. The law applies to cough suppressants like Delsyn, Robitussin and Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold.
Approximately one in 25 teens abuses DXM and other over-the-counter medicines to get high, according to University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study.
Drug stores in states with DXM laws typically handle it with a computer program on cash registers ensuring the cashier checks for proof that the purchaser of any product containing DXM is over the age of 18, said Steve Pasierb, president of the New York-based Partnership for Drug Free Kids.
States that have already taken action against DXM are California, New York, Virginia and Washington. Louisiana and New Jersey are exploring similar legislation.
The penalty for businesses that sell products with DXM to minors is a civil penalty of $50, said Arizona Rep. Heather Carter, a Republican from North Phoenix and former middle school teacher who sponsored the state legislation.
While kids who abuse DXM are a subset of teenagers engaging in a “fringe behavior,” many are severely endangering their health, particularly those with underlying conditions like heart problems, Pasierb said. Excessive amounts of DXM also causes hallucinations that can lead to dangerous behavior.
Carter noted a case in the Phoenix area last year where three teenagers overdosed on Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold, often known as Triple C, and ended up in the hospital.
“The ingredient itself is safe when you take it as directed. But kids are taking it at five to 80 times the label dosages,” Pasierb said. “They take it to get a dissociative high, like being drunk. It can impair vision, cause people to lose motor skills, and it can cause a lot of vomiting from ingesting it.”
While kids have been abusing cough syrup for years, social media has intensified the problem, Pasierb said. Kids are posting videos of themselves after abusing products like Robitussin and labeling their behavior as “robo-tripping.” The Coricidin pills look like Skittles candies and some kids are popping them like candies, Pasierb said.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association praised Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for signing Carter’s legislation into law.
“We hope this accomplishment in Arizona will help generate further support for a national law,” association president and CEO Scott Melville said in a prepared statement.
Pasierb and other advocates of the DXM restrictions say ideally Congress would pass a similar law, but it’s very difficult to get anything passed in Congress at the moment, he said.
Some kids will still be able to circumvent the law by purchasing cough suppressants online.
“We’re never going to stop every single solitary purchase, but hopefully this will stop groups of kids from all of a sudden deciding to go to the pharmacy to get high,” Carter said. “If they were going to order it on Amazon, it would at least take a day. This will prevent impulse buys.”
Kids who do need the medications can buy it themselves as long as they have a prescription. Otherwise, their parents will need to buy it for them, Carter said.
“Hopefully this will give parents some peace of mind,” Carter said. “This is pretty much part of a national movement. If it stops one young person from abusing this drug and having a negative outcome, then it was worth introducing and passing.”