Some Salt Lake mothers want "Dr. Mom" to pull her favorite cough suppressant off drug and grocery store shelves.
More than 100 mothers, fathers and teens are circulating petitions urging that Robitussin-DM, an over-the-counter cough syrup, be placed behind the counter with prescription drugs so pharmacists can better monitor its use.The petition drive, which has garnered more than 500 signatures in a week, comes in the wake of extensive and repeated
reports of Robitussin abuse among Salt Lake area youths.
Pharmacists report teens have been using the mood-altering drug for the wrong reason - to "get high" - 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. "We knew kids were stealing it, but we didn't know they were abusing it."
The abuse has become increasingly evident, and some believe it could have contributed to the recent suicides of two Jordan District high school students. Toxicology reports on both youths revealed high levels of dextromethorphan, one of the ingredients in the medicine.
Draper police said Wednesday that they had mistakenly reported the blood alcohol level in one of the victims, Todd Hunter, was .33 percent. In fact, the toxicology report showed Hunter had no alcohol in his blood. But the report showed "substantial evidence" of Robitussin-DM, said Draper Police Chief Wayne Riley.
Professionals say the newest preppy fad drug is a big hit with many other teens.
At the Dayspring Program at Wasatch Canyons Hospital, for example, 15 percent to 20 percent of the teenagers treated have abused Robitussin-DM. Use of it is so common that some high school coaches have said they see empty bottles of the medicine while jogging around the track. Security guards have found empty bottles in numerous local stores.
"A lot of times they (kids) will go into the store bathroom and guzzle a bottle or two," said Michael Abdala, a pharmacist at Skaggs Drug in Sandy. "We are missing a fair amount off our shelves."
Several stores have removed it from their shelves because of financial losses from the thefts. "We have a stack of shoplifting reports of kids stealing Robitussin-DM," said one local grocery store manager. "It's quite the trend." Concerned parents want the theft and abuse to stop. "Robitussin-DM is a potentially dangerous drug, and its abuse is extremely high in Utah," said Cheri Groesbeck, petition organizer. "For many kids it's the drug of choice."
According to White, the dextromethorphan 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).
"It gives an eight-hour high for these kids - a numbing high," Groesbeck said. "Kids says it's a cross between marijuana, acid (LSD) and cocaine - and they love it.
"They can drink four ounces before they go to school and still function."
Groesbeck said despite evidence of abuse, many parents are still going through the "it's-not-my-kid syndrome."
"Parent's don't want to admit it. But it is happening, and they need to start recognizing that it's not just druggy looking kids using it," she said. "It's your average kids, many from affluent families.
"Parents need to recognize it's not a matter of if they raised their kids right or wrong. Once kids get hooked on it, they can't stop."
Parents on the petition drive hope pharmacists will make it more difficult for teens to obtain the drug.
In addition to gaining signatures on the petitions, they have written to the Utah Pharmaceutical Association, the Utah Education Association and drug manufacturer A.H. Robins for help in pulling Robitussin-DM behind the counter.
Some pharmacists, however, aren't convinced that's the solution.
"Even then, there is no real mechanism to determine if the teen asking for the drug will be using it for legitimate reasons," Abdala said. "A possible benefit (of putting it behind the counter) is that we could interact with the kids and tell them the dangers associated with it."
An A.H. Robins spokesman said the company doesn't have the authority to tell retailers where to put the product, "but would have no objection to putting it behind the counter so long as similar products are treated in a like manner."
Roscoe E. Puckett Jr., manager of public information, said there are 100 antitussive products listed by the American Pharmaceutical Association. Of these, more than 76 contain dextromethorphan.