Teens turning cough medicine into 'new high'
By LARRY HENDRICKS & SARA KINCAID
Sun Staff Reporters
Some young people in Flagstaff are using over-the-counter cough suppressants to get high.
And Flagstaff police are working with local businesses to put a stop to it.
Officer Stephen VanOoteghem of the Flagstaff Police Department responded to a call of an attempted suicide earlier this week. The juvenile told VanOoteghem that he took 16 pills containing the drug Dextromethorphan, or DXM, to get high.
"From what I have heard, this is the third case we've had recently," said Sgt. Randy Weems of the Metro anti-narcotics task force.
"It's not a new thing," VanOoteghem, a former Metro agent, said. "It's just becoming more popular."
DXM is a safe and effective ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough medicines, VanOoteghem said. When it is used as directed, DXM has few side effects.
"But some people, especially youths, are abusing this medicine and causing serious damage to their bodies," VanOoteghem wrote in a flier he is distributing to Flagstaff stores that sell cough medicines. "They think it's an easy way to get high, but it's not."
Kevin Brown, Flagstaff Unified School District director of administration, said cases involving students overdosing on cough suppressants has not come to his attention.
"It's not to say there haven't been kids who have done that," he said. "It doesn't mean it's not out there."
Sgt. Gerry Blair said police officers who teach DARE and GREAT programs at FUSD will be contacting school administrators about DXM abuse.
According to Web sites that instruct users on how to take DXM to get high, capsules have approximately 20 to 30 milligrams of DXM. Light effects or "highs" can be felt after 100 milligrams. The effects last four to eight hours, depending on body weight and tolerance.
Common cough suppressants used to get high include Robitussin and Vicks Formula 44.
According to information from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the effects include a sense of euphoria, distorted perceptions of sight and sound and feelings of detachment and separation from self and environment.
Physical signs of abuse can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, confusion, poor coordination, rapid heart rate and dizziness.
At very high doses, DXM can cause paralysis and can slow breathing to the point of death.
Slang terms for DXM include Dex, Robo, Skittles and Syrup. A person high on DXM is said to be "Robo-tripping" or "skittling."
Teachers are trained to look for changes in student behavior.
"If they are acting odd we look into it," Brown said.
VanOoteghem will be passing out the fliers at all local retail outlets that sell over-the-counter cough suppressants with DXM as an ingredient. His purpose will be to ask store owners and manager to help reduce the accessibility of the products to teens, he said.
In the flier, VanOoteghem wrote, "Many companies have voluntarily removed the medicines containing DXM from the store shelves and have placed them in areas less accessible to teens and abusers of the drugs."
VanOoteghem said police also will be educating store owners and managers on what to look for, such as excessive purchases of the drugs, incidents of shoplifting involving the drugs and the ages of purchasers of the drugs.
Reporter Larry Hendricks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2262.