A federal study shows more than three-million young people say they’ve used over-the-counter cough medicines to get high. That’s more than five-percent of the population of those ages 12 to 25. Cathy Bartels, is a pharmacist in Omaha/Council Bluffs, and says kids cough medicine is being abused by kids at an alarming rate.
Bartels says, "This is more than methamphetamine use in this country which is really quite substantial." She says cough syrup is very inexpensive and it’s readily available without a prescription. While it might not seem threatening, she says the effects of cough medicine abuse can be significant, even fatal.
Bartels says: "The young people are taking them to get high. They are taking them because they give them so-called out-of-body experiences and hallucinations that are very similar to P-C-P or ketamine. But the problem is you can also have blurred vision, loss of physical coordination, intense abdominal pain, vomiting, uncontrolled violent muscle spasms, your heartbeat can get irregular and it can cause death."
In recent years, Iowa and Nebraska regulated the purchase of drugs that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used in meth manufacturing. Bartels, who works at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, says cough syrup regulations could be the next step. She says: "I know the Food and Drug Administration is looking at this problem very closely. First of all, we had the issue in our young pediatric population and now we are starting to see this abuse in the older population, the teenagers. The Food and Drug Administration is still trying to figure out what the most appropriate steps will be."
These medications are generally safe when taken as directed but young adults are taking huge amounts of the substance and often mixing it with alcohol or other drugs. The study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that females 12 to 17 are more likely than their male counterparts to have misused cough syrup but males 18 to 25 are more likely to use cough syrup to get high than females.