"Dr. Mom" could never have guessed her favorite cough suppressant would become the newest preppy fad drug.

Utah teens are using Robitussin-DM, an over-the-counter cough syrup, to suppress stress, frustration and disappointment.At the Dayspring Program at Wasatch Canyons Hospital, for example, 15-20 percent of the teenagers treated have abused Robitussin-DM.

"We've seen a significant increase in Robitussin abusers," said Dr. Lewis B. Hancock, program director. "We've also seen a 25 percent increase in the number of kids being treated at this facility in the past year."

But Hancock warns that the mood-altering drug can cause extreme depression and even thoughts of suicide. And parents should watch for any signs of their children abusing it.

Teens have been using Robitussin-DM for the wrong reason for some time. In fact, adolescents have been experimenting with the non-prescription drug for the past five to seven years.

"But over the last couple of months pharmacists have seen an increase in the theft of the product," said Dennis White, president-elect of the Utah Pharmaceutical Association and manager of the Harmon's pharmacy on Fort Union Boulevard. "We'll find an empty box in one part of the store and an empty bottle at the other side.

"We knew they were stealing it, but we didn't know they were abusing it. We are sort of like parents - the last to know," said White. "I wouldn't have thought of abusing that particular item. It's crazy that they are abusing it, but I guess that's our society right now."

Why Robitussin-DM?

According to White, the dextromathrophine in the product produces a "buzz."

Abusers report an initial feeling of numbness. Robitussin-DM can also produce hallucinations, followed by sleepiness - a result of the drug's alcohol content (1.4 percent).

Hancock said so-called "Robo freaks" are primarily middle- and upper-middle-class youths, whose culture taboos smoking and drinking.

Abusers typically ingest four ounces or more daily to "knock themselves out." Most become abusers without their parents realizing there's a problem.

"For a kid who might have difficulty smoking or drinking, it's a more socially accepted way to get high," Hancock said. "Most parents wouldn't know. Even if they caught the kids using it, they wouldn't know it gave them a high."

Unlike alcohol, marijuana or other drugs, the cough syrup is legal and readily available. It's also difficult to overdose on it.

"I don't know of any instances where a kid has overdosed, but the drug can cause prolonged depression that could make a person suicidal," Hancock said.

Still, it's not the most dangerous addiction treated by Dayspring specialists.

"It's a fad, a trend that has spread," Hancock said. "But still the majority of kids we're seeing in Dayspring are the ones smoking marijuana a couple oftimes a day and drinking alcohol on the weekend."

The social worker said marijuana is still the maintenance drug.

"We've also seen an increase in the number of LSD users; it has made a comeback," Hancock said. "At $5 bucks a hit, it's cheaper and lasts longer than a movie."

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Effects of abusing Robitussin-DM

- Numbness

- Drowsiness

- Halucinations

- Addiction

- Increased depression

- Thoughts of suicide