The risks of misusing cough medicine

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Last week Wisconsin lawmakers debated cough syrup abuse, and talked about the growing problem among teenagers.

In order to prevent misuse, proposed legislation would require minors to show an ID along with a prescription to purchase over-the-counter cold medications.

Tyler Mickelson sat down with Dr. Alicia Arnold to learn more about the risks involved with misuse. Their Q&A can be found below and you can watch the video above to learn more.

Opioids have been such a hot topic lately, cough medicine hasn’t been mentioned as much… what are the dangers associated with cough medicine?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “The concern is for taking too much dextromethorphan, which is the cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cough medicines. At high doses, there can be problems with coordination or vision, vomiting, hallucinations, or disorientation. There is even a small risk of coma or death at high doses. Sometimes teens think that because cough medicine is sold over the counter that it is a “safe” way to get high but taking too much can be quite dangerous.”

Can this become an addiction? If you’re using these items for some type of “high” or for getting a good night’s sleep… will we become dependent on them?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “Misuse of DXM has been reported to lead to addiction according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.”

Obviously, these medicines can help certain symptoms… but how much extra dosage would it take to start harming your health? Could simply doubling a normal dose cause problems?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “It varies for everyone depending on factors like body size, but when people are trying to abuse these medications, they usually take many times the recommended doses. When you are taking a medication, always read the packaging and follow the recommended dosages.”

Sometimes we hear about kids mixing DXM with other medications or alcohol. What are the dangers of this?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “When these drugs are being taken at high doses, sometimes they are mixed with other substances, and this can definitely increase the danger of bad outcomes. For example, there is risk of damage to your liver, changes in your heartbeat, and problems with your central nervous system.”

Have you heard of –or seen – enough cases to understand why a bill would be introduced and voted on in the legislature? How prevalent of a problem is this?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “There is a precedent because some other states have already made it illegal to sell products containing dextromethorphan to individuals under 18 because of the risk of abuse. I think regulations like these show that as a state that we are serious about keeping our teens safe, and we’re trying to determine the best ways to do that.”

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