Nonmedical Use of Cough Medicine
Dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient commonly found in over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, contributed to an estimated 12,584 visits to hospital emergency departments during 2004.
According to SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), 5,581 of those visits were attributed to nonmedical use.
The DAWN study, Emergency Department Visits Involving Dextromethorphan, shows that of those visits related to nonmedical use, almost half (48 percent) involved patients ages 12 to 20.
Nonmedical use of DXM in this report includes those taking more than a prescribed or recommended dose, as well as other forms of drug misuse or abuse, and does not include accidental ingestion, suicide attempts, or medical use.
DXM is generally recognized as safe when marketed according to FDA's regulations. But when taken in large amounts, it can produce hallucinations and a "high" similar to psychotropic drugs, such as phencyclidine (PCP). Serious side effects have included blurred vision, loss of physical coordination, abdominal pain, and rapid heartbeat.
To assist parents, SAMHSA has developed educational information about dextromethorphan at www.family.samhsa.gov/get/
The rate of emergency department visits resulting from nonmedical use of this product was 7.1 visits per 100,000 people age 12 to 20, compared with 2.6 visits or fewer per 100,000 people in other age groups. Alcohol was also implicated in 36 percent of those same nonmedical use visits for patients age 18 to 20 and in 13 percent of visits for patients age 12 to 17.
Suicide attempts accounted for 14 percent of DXM-related emergency department visits and ranged from 1.4 to 1.7 per 100,000 people age 12 to 34.
DAWN collects data from emergency departments in a national sample of short-term, general, non-Federal hospitals and publishes estimates of emergency department visits involving illicit drugs, alcohol, and nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals. The report is available on the SAMHSA Web site at dawninfo.samhsa.gov/pubs/shortreports/
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