Cold Comfort

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:23

Sussex County - Conscientious parents used to sniff the air for signs of cigarette or pot smoke and keep an eye on the contents of their liquor cabinet. Nowadays, if you have a teenager — especially one you feel may be at risk for drug abuse — you might want to watch common household items such as cough and cold medications, nail polish remover and that can of whipped cream in the refrigerator, just to name a few. Teens have found a cheap, easy and legal buzz through abusing over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. That’s because many of them contain pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, phenylpropanolamine or DMX (Dextromethorphan, commonly listed as DMX on labels), ingredients that when taken in excess cause a high and, at high enough doses, hallucinations. Coricidin Cough and Cold, which contains DMX, is a favorite among abusers, who have nicknamed it Triple C or Skittles. In addition, ephedrine, psuedoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine can be used to make methamphetamine. In the past few decades methamphetamine production and abuse, which used to be prevalent mainly on the West Coast, has been making its way across the country. It has become a huge problem in the heartland and now the East Coast has seen a sharp increase. Meth labs have been raided within the past year in both Hardyston and Vernon in Sussex County, N.J. Recently, both New Jersey and New York passed laws that limit the number of bottles or boxes of cough and cold medication a person may purchase in one transaction. And some of the larger drug store chains have implemented policies to keep over-the-counter drugs containing these products behind the pharmacy counter and available only to those 18 and older. As an experiment, Straus Newspapers asked one 9-year-old and two 13-year-old girls to try to amass at least six boxes or bottles of medication containing either DMX or pseudoephedrine. They went to random drugstores in West Milford, Byram, Newton and Sparta, N.J.; Monroe, Goshen and Warwick, N.Y. and Milford, Pa. One girl went to three different stores in Milford without success, but in New York and New Jersey, the girls were more often sold the drugs than turned away. In one instance, the drugs were behind the pharmacy counter and there was a sign clearly stating that they could be sold only to those 18 and older, yet the 13-year-old girl went to the pharmacy counter and bought two boxes without being questioned. Becky Carlson runs Project Alert, a drug-abuse prevention program, under the Sussex County Coalition for Healthy and Safe Families. She said these over-the-counter medicines account for the biggest percentage of drugstore theft. She also said that many teens raid medicine cabinets in their own houses and homes they visit. Sometimes, users hold what they call “bowling parties,” in which the kids throw whatever they’ve pilfered, including presciption medications, into a community bowl and then take pills indiscriminately. Along with the high or hallucinations may come fever, accelerated heart rate, sweating, rashes and vomiting, but the most serious problems come when a teen has an undetected health issue. A slight heart problem, for instance, could prove fatal under the influence of massive amounts of psuedoephedrine or DMX. Jim Tambini, Director of Daytop New Jersey, a residential and outpatient treatment center for teens, says it is sometimes hard for parents to differentiate between teen behaviors and drug behaviors. “The key is if a child makes a lot of changes — eating and sleeping habits, friends, becomes secretive, and won’t look you in the eye — and they happen in a short period of time, then that’s probably a warning sign,” he said. Project Alert recommends an evaluation by a health professional experienced in diagnosing adolescents with drug and alcohol problems. Kids Health, a Web site sponsored by the Nemours Foundation gives the following recommendations: • Lock your medicine cabinet, or keep those over-the-counter medicines that could potentially be abused in a less accessible place. • Don’t stockpile over-the-counter medicines. • Keep track of how much is in each bottle or container in your medicine cabinet. • Keep an eye out for not only traditional-looking cough and cold remedies in your teen’s room, but also strange-looking tablets (DXM is often sold on the Internet and at raves in its pure form in various shapes and colors). • Monitor your child’s Internet usage. Be on the lookout for suspicious Web sites and e-mails that seem to be promoting the abuse of DXM or other drugs, both legal and illegal.