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Senator Peter J. Barnes III

TRENTON –  Legislation sponsored by Senator Barnes that would prohibit the sale of certain cough  medicine to minors was approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

The bill, S-2436, would prohibit the sale of any product containing dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, either directly or indirectly by an agent or employee, to a person under 18 years of age. Violators would be fine not more than $750. This fine would also apply to an employee of a retail establishment who sells a product containing cough syrup to a minor. Additionally, penalties would be imposed to the store directly and not the chain company.

“This drug, if abused, can cause serious harm to individuals looking to get high,” said Senator Barnes (D-Middlesex). “When mixed with other drinks and drugs, this cough suppressant can produce side effects similar to illegal substances that can be dangerous. It is imperative that we work to prevent future incidents of substance abuse through cough medicine, and reducing easy access to it is a first step.”

Under the bill, penalties would be imposed and collected by an official authorized by the law to enforce state and health codes. The official may issue a summons for a violation and execute the penalty process according to the rules of the court.

The legislation further specifies that a defense could also be made if a minor falsely represented his or her age by producing either a driver’s license or non-driver identification card issued by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission or a similar card issued by another state, the federal government or Canada. In addition, individuals could provide a defense case if a person under the age purchasing the product provided a photographic identification issued by a county clerk, appearing to retailers and sellers as a person of legal age to buy the product.

“We must ensure the health and wellbeing of youths and adolescents who may try to consume this product without knowing the effects it can have on their bodies,” said Senator Barnes. “Currently, this over-the-counter medicine can be easily accessed by children and minors, who may use it for unintended purposes. This will help to keep it out of the hands of young people and reduce the risk of abuse.”

In addition, the legislation requires that penalties be paid to the treasury of the municipality where the violation occurred. The provisions of the bill do not apply to any prescription medication containing dextromethorphan that is dispensed by a pharmacist with a valid prescription.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cough and cold medicines are commonly used by young people to get high due to ingredients that are psychoactive (mind-altering) at higher-than-recommended dosages. These products can also contain other chemicals that may be dangerous when abused. Dextromethorphan (DXM) is one of two frequently abused cough suppressant medicines. NIDA reported that medicine containing this suppressant may produce euphoria and dissociative effects or even hallucinations when taken in quantities greater than the recommended dose.

The bill was approved by a vote of 9-0. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.