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Recent teen abuse of over-the-counter cold and cough medications has some U.S. military communities in Germany worried. The Defense Commissary Agency and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service restricts sales to teens of some products at their stores.

Recent teen abuse of over-the-counter cold and cough medications has some U.S. military communities in Germany worried. The Defense Commissary Agency and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service restricts sales to teens of some products at their stores. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Teen abuse of over-the-counter cold and cough medications recently has raised concerns in U.S. military communities in Germany but a newly released report shows it is a fairly common problem.

“Monitoring the Future” — a federally funded, annual study conducted by the University of Michigan — shows that 4 percent, 5 percent and 6 percent of students in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively, ingested common cold remedies to get high in 2007. Calling the rates “fairly high,” officials said similar results were reported in 2006.

“At least this problem of youth misuse of these over-the-counter medications does not seem to be getting worse but there is little evidence yet of much improvement,” UM principal investigator Lloyd Johnston said in a prepared statement following the study’s release last month.

Taken in large doses, over-the-counter drugs containing dextromethorphan, or DXM, can give users a hallucinatory high and, in some cases, can cause death, brain damage, seizures, loss of consciousness or irregular heartbeat, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“Robotripping” — getting high with cold and cough medicines such as Robitussin and Coricidin D — recently sent teens in Mannheim and Hohenfels, Germany, to the hospital. The incidents prompted officials in those communities to take measures to curb the problem.

At the recent request of command and school officials, the Defense Commissary Agency now prohibits the sale of Coricidin D to those under 18 in Mannheim and Hohenfels.

Though the Army and Air Force Exchange Service restricts sales of such products at stores throughout Europe, DeCA said it would only do so “if the military requested us to do that,” said Gerri Young, DeCA spokeswoman.

Still, school officials in Mannheim also are working to get the word out to parents about over-the-counter drug abuse and planned to hold a meeting Tuesday evening to address the issue. It would be the second meeting on the topic since a student overdosed on DXM just before Christmas.

“We’re really working hard to make sure people are aware of this,” said principal Sharon O’Donnell. “What’s so concerning for our parents is that this is something that they may have on their shelves at home.

DXM factsDextromethorphan, or DXM, is a cough-suppressing ingredient found in a variety of over-the-counter cold and cough medications.

Slang: Dex, Robo, Skittles, Triple C, Tussin.

Short-term effects: The high varies with amount taken but can include hallucinations, “out of body” sensations and loss of motor control. Confusion, dizziness, double or blurred vision, slurred speech, impaired physical coordination, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, numbness of fingers and toes and disorientation also can occur.

Long-term effects: Products containing DXM can have other ingredients, such as acetaminophen, which can be very dangerous when taken in large quantities. It can damage the liver, for example.

Source: Partnership for a Drug-Free America: www.drugfree.org.


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