Health knowledge and news provided by doctors.

Is Your Child Abusing Cough and Cold Medications?


A dangerous and popular trend among young people is the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications, also known as Robo tripping. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has developed some guidelines for parents to help them recognize the signs of abuse of these medications and how to prevent overdose.

Nearly 10 percent of adolescents in the United States, some as young as nine, say they have abused OTC medications that contain dextromethorphan (DXM), a synthetic drug that is chemically similar to morphine. DXM was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a cough suppressant in 1954. In the 1970s, drug manufacturers began putting DXM into cough syrups as a replacement for codeine.

DXM is available without a prescription because it does not produce a high when taken in small doses. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the recommended dose is about one-sixth to one-third of an ounce of an extra-strength cough syrup, which contains 15 to 30 milligrams of DXM.

When 4 or more ounces of cough syrup are consumed, DXM produces effects similar to those of PCP, resulting in hallucinations, elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and depressed breathing. DXM can be especially dangerous if it is taken along with other drugs. An overdose can cause seizures, coma, and death.

Follow eMaxHealth on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists notes that DXM is available in more than 125 medications, including well-known brands that anyone can purchase at the corner pharmacy or supermarket. Some of those brands include Delsym, Dimetapp, NyQuil, PediaCare, Robitussin, Triaminic, and Vicks.

Parents should monitor their children for possible signs of robo tripping, such as:

  • Your child has an unusual medicinal smell
  • Empty or missing cough and cold medicine bottles in the house or in the trash
  • An unexplainable disappearance of money from the house
  • A sudden change in your child’s appearance, attitude, and sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Unexpected or questionable packages arriving in the mail addressed to your child
  • Unusual charges on credit cards
  • Visits by your child to pro-drug websites

Some steps parents can take to help protect their children against DXM abuse:

  • Talk to their children about the dangers of drug abuse. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has a “Facts on Dextromethorphan” site for teens.
  • Control access to cough and cold medications at home. Lock medicine cabinets if necessary
  • Become familiar themselves with medications that contain DXM and do not stockpile them in the home

Cough and cold medications that contain dextromethorphan are legally and easily accessible by children and adolescents, making their abuse easy as well. Parents need to be aware of the possible signs of DXM abuse and help prevent what could be a dangerous or even deadly high.

American Society of Anesthesiologists
National Institute of Drug Abuse