Buono Bill To Crack Down On Over-The-Counter Drug Abuse Advances

Measure Would Require Age Verification Before Purchase of Cold or Cough Remedy Containing DXM

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Buono which would require that customers be at least 18 years old to purchase over-the-counter cough and cold remedies containing dextromethorphan (DXM) – an ingredient which, when abused by teenagers seeking to get high, can have potentially lethal consequences – was unanimously approved by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee today.

“New Jersey has a responsibility to keep our kids safe from the dangers of drug abuse – whether those drugs are purchased illegally, or over-the-counter,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Unfortunately, as the State gets better and better at getting illegal drugs off our streets, kids are turning to over-the-counter cough and cold remedies to get high. We need to crack down on over-the-counter drug abuse, before New Jersey experiences tragedy.”

The bill, S-2251, would require cashiers to verify that a customer is at least 18 before selling them any over-the-counter product containing DXM. DXM is a cough suppressant used as a common ingredient in more than 100 over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, including Robitussin, Vicks, Dayquil, and other popular brands.

Under the bill, a person who sells DXM to a minor customer in violation of the provisions of the bill would be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $250 for a first offense, not more than $500 for a second violation, and not more than $1,000 for a third and subsequent offenses.

When used appropriately, DXM has proven to be safe and effective in alleviating symptoms associated with the common cold or flu. However, at extremely high doses, it can cause vomiting, disorientation, hallucinations, muscle spasms, delirium, cardiac damage, permanent brain damage, coma, and in severe cases, death.

“Drugs containing DXM are common in medicine cabinets and pharmacy aisles around the State,” said Senator Buono. “It’s accessible, and if misused, can be potentially lethal.”

Though DXM has been abused by teenagers since the 1960’s, health officials have recently noted an alarming increase in usage among children between the ages of 9 and 17. This increase may be due to promotion on Web sites glorifying drug abuse, as well as on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, and on Web sites like YouTube, in which teens post videos of themselves “robo-tripping” (being high off of Robitussin).

According to the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, 205 teenagers in New Jersey were treated for exposure to DXM last year. In terms of contrast, 70 teenagers in the State were treated for DXM abuse in 2000. The Partnership for a Drug Free America estimates that one in ten teens – approximately 2.4 million nationwide – have experimented with cough medicine to get high.

“As the Internet becomes a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives, forums for bad behavior get larger and larger audiences,” said Senator Buono. “The popular video-sharing Web site has literally dozens, if not hundreds, of videos of kids experimenting with DXM abuse. We’re never going to cut off the supply of bad drug advice, but through this bill, we can limit the purchase of DXM to responsible adults.”

The lawmaker noted that the risks of DXM abuse are real, and potentially lethal. In 2006, a 16-year-old Anaheim, CA student named Lucia Martino died from liver failure after ingesting 20 over-the-counter cough suppressant tablets to get high. And last year, an 87-year-old Yonkers, NY man named Anthony Vieiro died in a car accident with a young driver who was under the influence of DXM at the time.

Closer to home, Ashley Angalet, an Edison High School student, recently suffered from severe adverse effects after taking the drug recreationally and was sent to the emergency room.

“DXM abuse can affect our best and brightest students, tempting them down a dangerous road,” said Senator Buono. “We need to put reasonable restrictions on the sale of drugs containing DXM, to make sure that our kids don’t become just another sad statistic in the epidemic of over-the-counter drug abuse.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.