The number of young people who abused over-the-counter cold medicines is comparable to use of LSD and much greater than that for methamphetamine among the age group, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The agency's 2006 survey on drug abuse and health, reported in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that more than 5 percent of teenagers and young adults had misused cough and cold medicines and indicated that these people also had experimented frequently with illicit drugs.
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Nearly 82 percent also had used marijuana. Slightly less than half also used inhalants or hallucinogens, such as LSD or Ecstasy, the agency said.
The cough suppressant DXM is found in more than 140 cough and cold medications available without a prescription. When taken in large amounts, DXM can cause disorientation, blurred vision, slurred speech and vomiting.
Those who misused an OTC cough and cold medication in the past year most reported misusing a NyQuil® product (30.5 percent), a Coricidin® product (18.1 percent), and a Robitussin® product (17.8 percent).
Among all persons aged 12 to 25, the rate of past year misuse among whites was 2.1 percent, which was three times higher than the level for blacks, 0.6 percent, and also significantly higher than the level for Hispanics, 1.4 percent.
The report notes that females in the 12-to-17 age group were more likely than males to have misused OTC cough and cold medications in the past year, but among young adults (18 to 25), males were more likely than females to have misused these medications.
"While increasing attention has been paid to the public health risk of prescription drug abuse, we also need to be aware of the growing dangers of misuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medications, especially among young people," said Terry Cline, the agency's administrator.