Triple C a new drug of choice for teens

WASHINGTON — Far too many teens are reaching into the family medicine cabinet for a quick high. Across the country and around the D.C. area, they are taking dangerous handfuls of cold medicines known by the street name “Triple C.”

“We definitely see over-the-counter drug abuse very, very commonly, almost as commonly as marijuana abuse,” says Dr. Finza Latif, director of psychiatric emergency services at the Children’s National Health System.

The drug of choice used to be Sudafed, which came under stringent government regulation in 2005. These days, teens are turning instead to cold, cough and congestion medications that are based on dextromethorphan, such as Coricidin.

“The main reason they take it is, dextromethorphan — at doses higher than you can take for a common cold — can cause these euphoric effects,” Latif says.

It’s popular among teens because it is relatively cheap and easy to obtain without parental permission.

Latif says teens take a bunch of pills and get euphoric, happy feelings. At higher doses, hallucinations are possible.

But there is a big downside: Abuse of these drugs can lead to psychosis, coma, movement problems, even heart trouble.

Teens, by and large, think these cold drugs are harmless, because they are sold over the counter. But Coricidin also contains acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage in high doses.

“Ten to 12 pills of Coricidin will give them a high but it almost has a lethal dose of acetaminophen in it,” Latif warns.

She says parents need to be aware that these medications are being abused by kids, and they need to make sure they are only taken in the proper dose and with adult supervision.

Stop Medicine Abuse offers resources for parents who want to learn more about cough medicine abuse.

Some pharmacies are regulating sales of over-the-counter cold, cough and congestion medications on their own — restricting sales to the pharmacy counter, requiring identification and limiting purchases. So far, however, there are no standard regulations like there are for Sudafed and related drugs. Doctors, such as Latif, who treat kids who end up in a hospital, say similar rules are needed for Triple C.

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