Teens under the age of 18 may get a surprise if they try to buy some over-the-counter medicines to relieve a nagging cough. The State of California banned sales of medicines containing an addictive chemical for minors as of Jan. 1.
Dextromethorphan (DXM), a common chemical in these medications, can be addictive and is being abused by some teens as a way to become intoxicated. One in 10 teenagers admit to using cough medicine for this reason, according to a 2004 study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
“I think the ban is offensive because some people legitimately are sick and need to get medicine,” junior Christina Farran said. “I needed to get decongestant and they asked if I was over 18, because obviously I looked like a drug dealer with my runny nose,” she said with a laugh.
DXM is safe for use as medicine unless it is taken in excessive quantities, according to the offices of State Sen. Joe Simitian (Mid-Peninsula, Santa Cruz) who sponsored the bill. Drinking dangerous amounts of the formerly over-the-counter suppressant is equivalent to drinking alcohol in excess.
Abuse of DXM increased between 1999 and 2004 when the number of reported cases of DXM misuse jumped from 23 to 375, according to the California Poison Control System.
Despite the dangers of abuse, anger about the ban is strong among teens.
“I don’t think over-the-counter cough medicine is very dangerous and I think that’s what most teens think,” freshman Sarah Selzer said. “I think its unfair that I can’t buy cough medicine myself because I need to take responsibility for my body with the on hands action of buying medicine.”
Excessive amounts of DXM can lead to changes in muscle reflexes or even seizures or loss of motor skills.
There are alternative remedies for relieving coughs without medicines, according to the Mayo Clinic. Gargling saltwater, drinking lots of fluids, turning on the humidifiers or drinking chicken soup are proven to help suppress the common cold.