YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota High School officials, concerned about teenage abuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medications, distributed a letter to parents and sponsors this week to heighten awareness of their potential dangers.

A similar warning about the dangers of excessive cough medicine went out last week to Seoul American High School students in South Korea after a few were hospitalized for overdosing in recent weeks, school and health officials said.

On the streets, the medications often are called “Skittles Tussin Robo-trippin,” the term for downing a full bottle of cough syrup, then riding out the LSD-like hallucinations its chemicals trigger. Health officials point to the ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM or DM). According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, DXM produces hallucinations and a sense of dissociation when intake dramatically exceeds recommended doses.

Representatives from Wyeth, makers of Robitussin, could not be reached for comment.

No overdose cases have been reported on Yokota campus grounds, but officials said abuse has been somewhat prevalent at the Yokota Teen Center on the base’s east side, where a teenager was hospitalized after overdosing on Robitussin DM about two months ago.

“It’s something we’ve been made aware of through the MPs at the Teen Center,” said Kris Monahan, the Yokota High School nurse who issued the warning. “As a resident, I’ve seen empty bottles in the parking lot.

“We haven’t caught anyone at the school this year. We found out about it in the community and wanted to get a letter out for the parents to let them know it’s something they need to look out for.”

Teen Center Director Raymond Chase acknowledged the problem Wednesday, saying it was a “big issue” last year. It subsided over the summer and resurfaced again around the start of this school year, he said.

“You can see the bottles out there in the parking lot,” he said Wednesday. “Kids are drinking it, getting high off it — just like alcohol.”

Yokota’s security forces routinely patrol the parking lot outside the center, which prohibits visitors from bringing food or drink inside.

But the fight against abuse appears difficult.

The products in question are widely available on store shelves at the base exchange, commissary and shopettes, and on the local economy.

“The kids are making these choices and decisions,” Chase said. “After the kid went to the hospital and got so sick, it might have scared some kids off it.

“I don’t want people to assume that just because there are kids coming here, they’re out there [in the parking lot] getting high. But is there an issue? Yes.”

Airman 1st Class Joseph Null, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer for all Yokota schools, touched briefly on the cough syrup issue when he spoke with high school faculty members Tuesday about illegal drug use. He said abuses aren’t limited to over-the-counter medications.

Security officials also have encountered teens seeking a buzz with butane fuel in lighter fluids, leftover aerosol gases in cans of whipped cream and the liquid incense Rush, which can be obtained off base.

“It’s an issue that affects this base,” he said Wednesday. “It’s easy for them to get away with it because it’s not illegal. You can easily buy two bottles of cough medicine and two bottles of whipped cream. Any place they can go where they won’t be observed by an adult makes it a lot easier for them to get away with it.”

Yokota High School principal Richard Schlueter and assistant principal Lorenzo Brown could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Monahan said all Department of Defense Dependents Schools Pacific students are prohibited from possessing any type of medication on campuses. With special permission, exceptions are made for inhalers used by those with asthma symptoms.

Still, Null said, abuses of over-the-counter products have occurred at high school football games. A student also was suspended for using Rush in a classroom.

Violators of the system-wide regulation against possession, use and distribution of drugs — including the over-the-counter variety — face suspension or expulsion for the first incident, Monahan said. They also must meet with the school alcohol and substance-abuse counselor before returning.

Punishment outside the classroom, Null said, can include community service, rehabilitation or loss of base privileges. Those decisions are handed down by base Youth Conduct Adjudication Program officials.

Monahan said he believes the teenage fad first showed up at Yokota in the last two years, likely spread from the United States.

“Some newer kid in the area usually brings the idea in,” she said. “Large amount of doses gives you a high and a hallucination feeling. It’s also really dangerous.”

But, he said, “I don’t know what we can do legally to stop kids from buying three bottles of Robitussin.”

With youths ages 13-18 frequenting the Teen Center, it’s also possible the abuse extends to the middle school level, Monahan said.

Officials agree that parental awareness is critical in combatting the problem.

“We need to make parents aware of it and get them to be more cautious,” Chase said. “Sometimes, kids come in with bloody eyes and in a state of dizziness. Parents need to start asking some questions.

“Parents need to step up to the plate here.”

Products to look for

Yokota High School and other officials have identified a number of over-the-counter products containing dextromethorphan they say are being abused by teenagers.

Yokota High School nurse Kris Monahan said the products include:

• Coricidin Cold and Cough Medication, 30 mg• Robitussin DM, 10 mg• Vicks 44• Drixoral

If abused, the products — legally available on the local economy and at the base exchange, commissary and shopettes — can cause headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, blurred vision, slurred speech, euphoria or dysphoria, paranoia, hallucinations, seizures and even death, Monahan said.

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