Getting High with OTC Drugs

Forget street drugs, millions of kids today are stopping by their local pharmacy to pick up over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to achieve a long-lasting high because it’s far cheaper and just as potent as any illegal drug. The primary culprits are cough and cold medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant that produces a euphoric-like effect when consumed in large quantities. Medicines that contain the ingredient include NyQuil and Robitussin (or Robo for slang). 

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2006 about 3.1 million people aged 12 to 25 had ever used an OTC cough and cold medication to get high, and nearly one million had done so in the past year. Also, from 1999 to 2004, there was a seven-fold increase in cases related to the abuse of DXM reported to poison control centers nationwide. Most of these cases were among 15- and 16-year-olds.

DXM can be safely taken in 30-milligram doses or less, but those who abuse the cough medicine can consume up to 360 milligrams in order to achieve the optimal sensation. Ingesting quantities that are too large is extremely dangerous; side effects include hallucinations, loss of motor control and "out-of-body" dissociations, as well as the more serious consequences like extreme high fever, brain damage and even death. Regular abuse of DXM at high doses can lead to toxic psychosis, in which the person loses contact with reality and is in a perpetual confused state. Mixing DXM with alcohol and other drugs poses an increased threat to one’s health.

Although it may seem like good fun to take a few dozen extra doses of cold medicine and buzz the night away, the extreme potential health risks with over consumption far outweigh the short-term benefits — making OTC drug abuse even more stupid than it already looks.  

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