Abuse of cold medicine is on the rise: Schools, authorities are concerned over the cheap-high trend
The slang terms include "Orange Crush" and "Triple C." They describe over-the-counter cold medicines such as Coricidin, which consumed at overdosing levels by teenagers, elicit toxic, hallucinogenic highs.
In the past month, two teenage boys were hospitalized after overdosing on the over-the counter cold medicine, said Steve Maxwell, El Dorado County deputy chief probation officer.
Although it has been on the national radar screen for years, authorities and school officials are warning parents about the dangerous trend that teens have embraced from coast to coast, and the problems associated with it. Authorities say the abuse may be wider than the two boys who went to the hospital.
"We are recognizing that several other minors that we supervise may have a problem with this," Maxwell said.
Coricidin offers "cold and flu relief" in red pills. It also contains the cough-suppressant ingredient dextromethorphan which can induce hallucinations and body highs when taken in large quantities, such as 15 or 20 pills, Maxwell said. Other cold medicines such as Robitussin contain dextromethorphan or DXM.
Overdoses can also induce a loss of motor skills, an irregular heartbeat, seizures and a loss of consciousness, Maxwell said.
Tahoe Youth and Family Services has known about the problem for years while dealing with teenagers with drug issues, said Program Coordinator Cindy Swalm.
"For some kids that's their drug of choice," Swalm said.
Teenagers between 13 to 16 years old are the main age group known for abusing the on-the-counter drug, Swalm said. The term "Orange Crush" is given to the drug trip since teenagers often wretch the red pills to induce the high.
"I know, it's gross," Swalm said.
According to a 2004 article by the New York Times, 2,523 calls arrived in poison-control centers from the "abuse and misuse" of dextromethorphan in 2000. More than 60 percent of the 2,523 calls involved teenagers, the article stated.
Three years later, the number had almost doubled to 4,382 with almost 75 percent of the calls involving teenagers, according to the article.
Numbers were attained through the American Association of Poison Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System.
For its part, the company that makes Coricidin has acknowledged it's dangers if abused. Its Web site has a link for parents and professionals to learn strategies in curbing the possibility of abuse by teenagers.
Included in the section is a letter by Phillipe Cunningham, a drug abuse expert and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina.
In his letter Cunningham provided five tips for parents to stop Coricidin abuse from happening.
But just as important is being aware of what types of substances are abused by adolescents.
"It is widely known that teens sometimes turn to illicit drugs like marijuana, ecstasy and methamphetamine to get high," Cunningham wrote. "But if you're like most parents, you're probably not aware that a number of over-the-counter products are also abused by teens."
Part of the drug's allure is its accessibility and cheap cost, officials said. For less than $10 a person can go to most supermarkets and buy Coricidin HBP, which contains dextromethorphan.
Swalm said she's been on a "personal rampage" for stores to place Coricidin behind the counter. Other cold medicine brands such as Sudafed have been put off the counter and regulated for sale because of it being a main ingredient in making methamphetamine.
One chain that has placed Coricidin behind the counter is Rite Aid. Bob Chan, pharmacy manager at the South Lake Tahoe branch, said a majority of cold medicine brands has been taken off the shelves.
Similar to cold medicines that are used for methamphetamine production, purchasers of Coricidin HBP must provide proof of age and will be limited in the number of packages they are able to buy.
Chan said Friday and Saturday nights usually bring at least one seeker of the cold medicine whose motive might be to abuse the drug.
"At least they have to come to the pharmacy to get it," Chan said.
Some South Tahoe High School students knew of the highs brought on by cough medicine. One concoction includes the mixture of Robitussin and alcohol such as vodka.
"It's like the gangster version of moonshine," said senior Rey Sanchez.
"It's supposed to be purple and thick," said Franky Meza, also a senior.
"It's a lame thing to do I'll tell you that," Meza added. "You have to be pretty desperate to get high on cough medicine."
Other students echoed Meza's sentiment. Junior Coral Warren said abusing cough medicine is for the "younger crowd."
"It tastes disgusting," she said. "The whole thing seems funny to me."
One person concerned about the trend is El Dorado County Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe. The prosecutor has seen several youths in juvenile court who cited cough medicine abuse. Uthe said he's worried about teenagers abusing the medicine and pairing it with other drugs. Six months ago, Uthe said, he hadn't heard of Coricidin abuse."
This is something that wouldn't strike most parents as something to be concerned about," he said, adding, "It's just one more thing for parents to deal with I suppose."
By William Ferchland