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Hard Candy: New Ways Kids Get High

Cough Medicines

What's being abused:
Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold and other over-the-counter pills, aka "Skittles," "Red Devils," "Triple-C"
Robitussin, Delsym and other syrups, aka "Tussin," "Orange Crush"

How kids get high: A dose of cough medicine contains 10 to 30 mg of dextromethorphan (DXM), an addictive drug that's chemically similar to codeine. Abusers ingest up to 15 times that amount, seeking a high that ranges from alcohol-like inebriation to visual hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. Some teens drink entire bottles of syrup, but "robo-tripping" or "robo-dosing," as the practice is known, often causes vomiting. As a result some kids prefer tablets, and the brand of choice is Coricidin Cough & Cold, which comes in little red pills stamped with three C's. "They have a sugary cinnamon coating that tastes good, and to have that as part of getting high is really cool," says Ashlyn M., a 16-year-old in New York City who started abusing "Vitamin D" (yet another name for DXM) five years ago and is still struggling with her addiction.

The consequences: Taking excessive amounts of cough syrup can cause blurred vision, slurred speech, rapid heartbeat, seizures, and coma. (Overdoses of cough medicines that also contain the analgesic acetaminophen can permanently damage the liver.) Health officials across the country estimate that several people have died in recent years as a result of accidents, psychotic behavior, and violence caused in part by DXM abuse. In response to the crisis seven states are considering legislation that would restrict sales of DXM medications to minors.

What you can do: Keep only one bottle of cough medicine at home and hide it from your kids. Be aware that DXM abusers can seem distant and detached, and overly absorbed with themselves or objects around them. Even if your child is behaving normally, check his backpack, room, and car for empty blister-packs or cough syrup bottles.