Proposal Filed to Limit Cough-Medicine Sales to Minors in TN

In an attempt to make it harder for teens to get high on commonplace store-bought medicines, one Middle Tennessee lawmaker wants to put age restrictions on the sale of cough syrup.

State Rep. William Lamberth, a Cottontown Republican, has filed legislation intended to keep cough and cold remedies containing dextromethorphan, or DXM, out of the hands of unsupervised minors.

dmx coughDXM is a “pretty powerful cough medicine” that adolescents have been known to abuse, and which has “some very deadly and disastrous side effects” for children who ingest large quantities of it, Lamberth told TNReport.

Lamberth said he doesn’t really want to make it harder for Tennesseans with legitimate ailments to sooth their symptoms, but believes there’s a pressing need for adults to supervise minors using the medications.

While a recommended dose has very little to no psychoactive effects, DXM has strong dissociative properties similar to PCP or Ketamine when substantial volumes are ingested. Recreational use of DXM can also cause a false positive for PCP on some drug tests.

According to WebMD, using DXM recreationally can cause fever, increased heart rate, vomiting, impaired judgment, slurred speech, hallucinations and dissociative effects. Additionally, DXM is often paired with acetominophen — Tylenol — in cold medications, high doses of which can cause liver failure.

In 1993, Jim Hogshire, an editor for Harper‘s magazine, wrote a first-person account of his experience taking more than the recommended dose of Robitussin. According to Hogshire’s account, he took eight ounces of Robitussin before bed and woke up around 4 am with “a reptilian brain.”

“My whole way of thinking and perceiving had changed. I had full control over my motor functions, but I felt ungainly. I was detached from my body, as if I were on laughing gas,” Hogshire wrote.

The new law proposed for Tennessee would require people who look under 30 to show ID for purchases of medication containing DXM. The legislation includes an exemption for emancipated minors to purchase DXM medication without an adult.

Because most of the cough medicine abuse he’s aware of has been by adolescents — “junior high and early high school age” — Lamberth said he’s not too concerned with potential abuse by the adults.

At 18 you can vote, join the military and experience any number of additional things that “trigger” upon becoming an adult, and purchasing cold medication containing DXM “will be one of those things,” said Lamberth, a former state prosecutor.

Many other states have implemented age-requirements on cough and cold medicine products, Lamberth said. Some of the states with age-restrictions on DXM products are: Arizona, California, Louisiana, New York and Washington.

DXM is not currently a controlled substance in the U.S., but according to a 2010 DEA report, the drug could be added to the Controlled Substances Act “if warranted.”

Lamberth told TNReport he’s discussed the impact of this restriction with members of the pharmaceutical industry. “I don’t have any facts or figures — that’s more anecdotal evidence — but it’s my understanding from doctors, pharmacists and everything else that it’s definitely a beneficial law,” he said.

The Tennessee bill is sponsored in the General Assembly’s upper chamber by Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin.