Leg Wants to Regulate Cough Syrup

Ali Meyer:  It’s Lil Wayne’s drug of choice.  Kids call it robo-tripping.  Cough syrup isn’t just for colds anymore.

State Sen. Joe Simitian is attempting to pass SB 514, a bill that would prohibit the sale of dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant, to minors.  Proponents of the bill warn that DXM is a harmful drug to minors and the instances of abuse have been increasing.  Opponents say it’s difficult to know which products contain DXM since there is no authoritative list, making it difficult for clerks and businesses to regulate these transactions.

DXM’s side effects  include “dissociative out of body sensations, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, paranoia, lethargy, numbness of fingers and toes, seizures, brain damage, heart attacks and deaths,” said Sen. Simitian.

“Since 2003, Dextromethophan has been the most commonly abused substance by teenagers as reported to the poison center accounting for about 20 percentof all teenage abuse calls and about 80 percent of them involve a teenager being reared in a hospital for significant adverse effects,” said Dr. Eileen Anderson, the senior toxicologist at California’s Poison Control Center.  “The poison center has seen a 15-fold rise in teenage DXM abuse in the last decade.  This is a serious problem in CA with significant associated healthcare costs.”

Even the manufacturers of DXM are backing SB 514.  “There still continues to be a big problem with kids abusing this particular product and so we now feel it is the time to agree to this effort,” said Terry Thomas of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. “The analysis has correctly pointed out that there will be some minor loss of revenue from sales tax but we think that is definitely offset by the savings in healthcare costs.”

Slippery Slope

Opponents think this bill leads to a slippery slope.  “Now our 17 year old college kids who have a terrible cold and have to study all night before the final can’t go to the drugstore and buy something that will relieve them of their cold because of this abuse,” said state Sen. Chris Norby. “I don’t doubt that there is abuse but there’s abuse for virtually every kind of thing you can buy in a drugstore.  And if we continue to ratchet up the requirements for clerks and they are constantly carding people, I think thats an issue.  I can see a day where there will be an entire list of substances that a retail clerk will have to ask ID for, or have keys too.  There’s no end to it.”

Instead of relying on government regulation, Norby focused on individual responsibility.  “If you look at the biggest substance kids are abusing, it’s food.  My kids are addicted to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  They buy them all the time.they’ve got lots of salt. They’ve got lots of fat. They stain their fingers and the school is thinking about banning them because these kids love the Cheetos and it stains all the papers at school.  If the schools want to ban it, fine, we may have a law ultimately doing that.  That’s my responsibility as a parent.  Yes, it will give them hypertension.  Yes, it will make them fat.  Most things in the supermarket will do that.  But I’m concerned about a slippery slope and will definitely not go down that path.”

The retailers have room to be concerned.  “A major issue is the absence of a state-generated, authoritative list of products containing DXM,” said the California Grocers Association. “Grocers would be forced to make an independent determination regarding which products are covered.  The employing business would be subject to potential legal action and opportunistic litigation despite earnest efforts to train employees and require them to follow the law.”

SB 514 will next go to the Assembly floor for roll call.


Tags assigned to this article:
Chris Norbycough syrupDXMJoe SimitianAli Meyer

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