September 14th, 2010
09:29 AM ET

The FDA may require prescriptions for products with common cough suppressant

Last year, more than 8,000 people, mostly teens, were treated at emergency rooms because they abused over-the-counter cough suppressants, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Now in an effort to control these substances, the FDA is considering whether to make medicines like Nyquil, Robitussin and Tylenol Cold tablets, prescription drugs.

An FDA advisory committee, which is meeting today in College Park, Maryland will review data, provided to them by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA, which asked for the hearing back in 2007, says it saw a 70 percent increase in emergency room visits between 2004 and 2008, because of teens using large amounts of cough syrup to get high.

The ingredient in these medicines that creates the euphoria is dextromethorphan, also known as "dex" or  DXM. It's found in many products at drug stores. Kids who abuse these suppressants, many times mix them with prescription drugs or marijuana, according to experts. The practice has a few names including "robotripping".  The combination can cause a spike in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, and if a child consumes enough of it, it can be deadly.

Misty Fetko, a registered nurse from Santa Barbara, California knew the dangers of illegal drugs and alcohol. She talked to both her sons about it. But she never suspected her eldest boy, Carl, was using cough syrup to get high. That's until she started seeing empty bottles of it in their home and in his car. By the time it dawned on her that he was in danger, it was too late. A few weeks before he was scheduled to attend college, she found him in his bed, unresponsive. His heart had stopped.

Autopsy reports showed a combination of high doses of DEX in his system, along with other prescription medicines. "I never would have thought this to happen." said Fetko. " We use to lock up our liquor. Instead, I should have been locking up my medicine cabinet."

Fetko's family is not alone. Eight percent or 1.3 million teens have reported abusing over-the-counter cough suppressants over the last year, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America reports. The statistic may seem high, but it's much lower than the number of teens abusing other substances like inhalants and marijuana. So to many drug experts, clamping down on these medicines, that more than 40 million people use safely to help fight coughs and colds, seems a little extreme.

"This is not the biggest drug problem facing America's families, these days." says Steve Pasierb, president of Partnership. "But, obviously, the problem needs to be addressed. We think parental education is key."

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association agrees. As a representative for hundreds of drug manufacturers, the CHPA believes very few parents have heard about cough suppressant abuse and if they knew, they would address it.

"Many parents don't know about this type of drug abuse." notes Linda Suydam, president of CHPA. "We have found that parents who do discuss drugs with their kids have a 50 percent better outcome of keeping their kids away from any drug form."

If the advisory committee agrees that these drugs should become prescription, they will forward their recommendation to the FDA, which will make its decision based on the committee's findings. Although the FDA does not have to follow the committee's suggestion, they traditionally do.

soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. Tucky

    Teens will ALWAYS find ways of getting high... this is not going to stop even if more and more meds are made to be prescription meds! Teens will just go down a different route and find the next best high...there will always be something else! Teens will die! They died in the past and they will die in the future – all you can do is try and lead them in the right direction and just hope they make the right decisions – but banning everything and making everything a prescription is ludicrous.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Aaron

    Hey at some point in time in a person's life they will get high off of some type of substance. Ever drink a soda? Bam.. caffine high. Addicts, abusers, and people who just plain want to get high off of any substance will get it one way or another. Either through the doctors or on the streets. The first major step people can take in OTC and prescription drug abuse is legalizing a drug that has caused zero deaths. You can put an age limit on something, big effin deal. I see 14 y/o kids all the time drunk as drunk can be, smoking cigs, smoking pot, you name it. They are going to try it one way or another. Maybe some will not try anything at all. But I will say this... If pot was legal you wouldn't be reading a story of someone dieing on OTC or prescription drugs. I hope Cali leads the way. I can't wait for the rest of this screwed up country to follow and get back on the correct track of freedom.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. lee

    I would agree to a Drug Store that only sells OTC drugs and you must show ID just like a liquor store. I think that would help.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. mike

    Why is the gov't so obsessed with people getting high? There are a lot of very real problems we could be working on. Intoxication seems like such a ridiculously mundane thing to have any concern over.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Truth

    We better ban spinning in circles now! I just saw my friend and his wife's 2 year old doing it this weekend for kicks.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Maria

    Why don't we just make it 18+? That would circumvent the age issue. Otherwise, stupid kids get what they deserve.

    September 14, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Judi

    This is not a new way to get "high". When I was in the Army, stationed in Germany in 1981, soldiers were using cough syrup to get their "high".

    September 14, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Carolyn

    They did this with ephedra a few years ago because some young idiot died after swallowing a whole bottle to get high.

    September 14, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. TrishGal

    "You can't fix stupid" one of the best comments I've read on this article today. This is just another reason why we should all stop letting Big Bro tell us as adults how to live, what we should consume, etc. I say legalize everything and just let stupid die off.. Darwinism – survival of the fittest! By the way, what is to stop those children from getting their hands on a bottle of cough medicine AFTER it has been perscribed by a Doctor??

    September 14, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Pete

    Let me run my own life and you can run yours.

    8,000 idiot teenagers, we'd be better off with out the little dope heads. Ever heard of Darwin, survival of the strongest and most intelligent of a species? I hope these cough syrup junkies are unable of passing on their genes.

    September 14, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Holly Golightly

    baylor1...well said. you can't fix stupid. ryan–hey it's really easy to judge people from your safe computer haven. ever heard of,"don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes'?! you have a quasi-point. those on permanent gov't assistance have no business having the latest of everything. (sorry.) but insurance is hella-expensive! I have insurance thru my work, but I have to be pretty flippin sick to go to the dr. at $100 or more per pop. And don't think it doesn't wreak havoc on my budget! yes, I have a budget! I have to have a car to go to work...there are no places to work within walking distance of my house and no public transportation where I live. And I pretty much need my (no frills!) phone because of my job and family. I DO NOT have the latest of everything! Stop judging everyone by your own experiences!!!

    September 14, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Damon

    Don't worry, the internet has openned up a plethora of naturally occurring substances that are more than sufficient to get yourself high. You probably have something growing or available in a store in some form or another, within a mile of your home that can quickly and safely get you high. Yes, there are safe ways to get high. See youtube. Kids get high all the time and don't die. The ones that do die are entirely preventable with properly labeled reliable doses. Anyone who has never gotten high has never experienced the true wonder this life has to offer (sometimes Jesus is a good substitute, personal preference and all).

    September 14, 2010 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Teonia

    "Do you have cable TV?" Yes only because without it I would pay more for the internet. "Do you have high speed internet?" Yes, only because without it I wouldn't be able to do my homeworlk for college. "Do you have a cell phone?" No, currently it is broken and I cant buy a new one. The one I did have cost ten bucks a month and was only to be used infrequently. "Do you have a smart phone with a mandatory 30 data plan?" No " Do you buy designer clothes?" No, I own three outfits, one of the shirts came from goodwill...and the rest came from financial aid money so I could be decently dressed for class. "Do you have a car that is less than 10 years old?" No, I can't afford a car I catch a bus I can spend from up to 30-60 min outside one way to get to school...in the winter where I live it means being in snow up to my knees and not feeling my toes for hours after. "Do you have more than one pair of shoes?" No "Do you live in a house with more than 2 bedrooms?" No I live in a trailer from 1972. "Do you shop at Whole Foods?" I shop wherever I can buy the most food on a fixed budget that will last a whole month because I dont own a car. "Do you have a pet?" Yes, its relatively inexpensive and God forbid Im allowed some spark of happiness. "Do you have a new computer?" I got the comp I bought with my financial aid. "Do you use air conditioning?" Yes, I got an ancient air conditioner and if I dont use it the temperature will get over 90 degrees in my crappy tin can of a home on 70 degree days...no ac on a 90 or more degree day= very very dangerous temperatures." Do you see movies at the cinema?" Only on a birthday, but once again God forbid I even enjoy a day like that ...Im sure you feel a poor person like me shouldn't celebrate their life. "Do you have an iPod?" No, closest thing I got is a cheap mp3 bought for me as a birthday present. " Do you have a large TV?" No
    I HATE people who make assumptions about those of us who have had less opportunities or misfortunes in their life. I live daily in constant pain because I can't afford a freaking dentist let alone a doctor. Heck I am lucky if I can afford cough medicine when I get sick... because usually I don't have cash laying around it all goes to bills. So by all means make cough medicine prescription only. Maybe one day all you rich self absorbed people will get lucky and us "moochers" and worthless supposedly "lazy" people will die. Wont that be a happy day for you. I work hard every day darn near every minute of my life to make my future better, and I can promise you Ryan that I currently do better in my classes than you probably ever did. Oh, but wait I must be making the wrong choice I should fail my classes because I had to take my bus fare and my internet bill money and go to the doctor because I got a cold. I don't know what world we are living in anymore when people can be so judgmental of things they have no idea about.

    September 14, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jedikeri

    Here's a novel idea...put an age requirement of 18 years or older to purchase such meds, and then parents, lock the medicines up!!!!!!

    September 14, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bob

    Maybe our leaders at Big pharma could develop a safer product.. There must be better ways to handle colds than these nasty drugs.. Children are our future their the most precious assets we got! There has to be a good solution to keep these drugs way from children without increasing the price through prescription.. Maybe we can treat them like alcohol, where you have to be 21 and show a drivers lisence to purchase!

    September 14, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Tcrab

    What's next? Getting carded for a bottle of whipped cream or vanilla extract? I went to Target last week and bought a bottle of compressed air to clean my keyboard and I got carded for that. The next day my daughter needed Advil Cold and Sinus and I got carded again. I'm probably on a watch list somewhere as a narcotics trafficker. Kids are going to get high no matter what. You can try and make everything hard to access, but they'll just find another substance. There's probably a kid out there right now licking cockroaches or eating moss trying to see if he can get high.

    September 14, 2010 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. dtea

    I've been using cough medicine responsibly to trip for over ten years. It is next to impossible to overdose on DXM alone, however the other things IN the cough medicine CAN cause death, most commonly caused by Chlorpheniramine Maleate. I am almost 26 years old, I know how to be responsible while taking recreational drugs, and if they want to put it behind the counter so kids can't get it – GOOD. Kids shouldn't be doing drugs, it can seriously mess their brains up!

    But for those of us who are old enough and responsible with our drug use (which interestingly, most adult DXM users I know are very informed about their drug usage) please don't require a prescription. I would then be forced to fake coughs so I can get a prescription from a doctor I cannot afford.

    September 14, 2010 at 20:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • abdc

      You can not fake a cough,the DR or nurse can tell you do not have one. And I'm not neither and I can do that.

      September 14, 2010 at 20:35 | Report abuse |
    • dtea

      I guarantee you I can fake a cough. Get enough mucus in the back of your throat and it'll sound real.

      September 14, 2010 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
  18. abdc

    Maybe it not buying this stuff as much as it available at home. like guns ,we need to start locking the meds up . But they will find something else to get hi on. sowhere do you really thing where the next problem going to be? thats the question.

    September 14, 2010 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Danielle

    My son started abusing DXM and now he's in a wilderness program in UTAH. Anyone else have a son or daughter abusing DXM?

    September 14, 2010 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. marshall

    Wonderful – go to see a Dr. and pay $75.00 for an office visit to get a $4.00 bottle of cough medicine – you got to be kidding .

    Poor people can not afford it so they will further jam up the emergency rooms and do Dr.'s have the time to write scripts for this . Stupid FDA!!!!!

    September 14, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Rice

    thanks for telling me new and inventive ways to get high CNN! Maybe if so many people would shut up about how to get high on this, that and the other thing, kids wouldn't learn how to.

    September 15, 2010 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jennifer

    I agree with Cindy, 100%. We should not have to suffer, and pay doctor bills to get simple OTC medications. They should just make it available behind the counter for people over 18 years of age. I wouldn't mind signing for it if I had to. That's a lot better than having to go to the doctor!

    September 15, 2010 at 06:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Jennifer

    Oh, and by the way, this is why I am a Libertarian. The government needs to stop this mommy-coddling bs.

    September 15, 2010 at 06:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. otto

    Holy Moley, DXM is used to get high? This might have been news 10 years ago. Maybe we need an OTC drug czar.

    September 15, 2010 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. maverickdallas101

    What difference would it make if the parents got the cough medicine by Rx only??? The cough medicine is in the house, the kid is still going to get a hold of it if it's not under lock and key. I would suggest all parents heed the cautions on the label:
    "KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN". Also education on this and other kinds of substance abuse should be REQUIRED as part of EACH and EVERY school's curriculum. That's a law that would make some real sense.
    If afterwards, the kid gets high and dies despite being educated about substance abuse, well–I don't feel the least bit sorry for him/her.

    September 15, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mike

    What most people don't realize is that DXM in and of its self is a relatively harmless drug. It's these idiot kids that don't do their research and decide to take Cordicidin Cough and Cold, or other medications, that have Acetametaphin in them. These kids die because they OD on pain killers (notice how it said in the story that Carl had other "prescription medicines" in his system, he didn't die from DXM. In fact not once in the story does it say ANYONE has died from it!). But of course parents go absolutely bat shit crazy because the FDA says that DXM should be controlled but have no idea about the underlying facts about the drug in question. So of course, even though more kids die of alcohol poisoning, this drug will be controlled beyond belief. Don't get me wrong I do not advocate the abusing of this drug by anyone, but it shows just how irrational the media and Americans are sometimes.

    September 15, 2010 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. CColon

    Teenagers will ALWAYS find ways to get high. They will snort aerosals, lick frogs, whatever they dream up. Educate the parents to be more vigilant, though it is not easy. First the damned government made it ridiculous to purchase any sinus medication or cold medication with pseudoephedrine because they wanted to protect teenagers and prevent people from make meth from it, so now we all have to show ID and sign that we are purchasing ONE box or bottle of these "dangerous" medications. Now the damned government is going to make us all get prescriptions for things as simple as Robitussin DM. I currently have bronchitis and have to take this daily so these little bottles (many stores do not carry the larger bottle) don't go too far. We already have to show ID even to get the Robitussin so now we will all have to pay for another doctor's visit and probably elevated prices for these medications. Don't punish those of us who use these medications properly and legally because their are a relatively few number of idiots out there who will turn anything into a method to get high. This is the United States of America and not some European country in which the government regulates every thing under the sun....even aspirin....but we're heading in that direction.

    September 16, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Rick

    I find it hard to believe thhatt sttuffin kaugh medifea;di ;aedkfdkf ldhdi glvdha;k ga ........... Yeah, something needs to be done about this.

    September 16, 2010 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Waylon Soro

    Mullein is also excellent for producing Cough Syrup, specifically for dry coughs. It possesses a soothing demulcent for the respiratory system. 'Demulcent' means a herb wealthy in mucilage that is soothing and in this situation is also delightful!.When you feel the leaves of Mullein they really feel wonderfully soft and silky which is a certain sign that the leaves have mucilage. Mucilage, although it sounds disgusting, is excellent stuff as it coats and protects mucous membranes lining the gut and respiratory system.^

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