A.H. Robins Co. Inc., which recently had to financially compensate hundreds of Utahns who suffered severe medical problems from the Dalkon Shield IUD, is trying to avert another crisis - an epidemic of Robitussin-DM abuse by Salt Lake area teens.
Robins, manufacturer of the over-the-counter cough suppressant, is joining the Utah Pharmaceutical Association in developing an anti-drug program for use in Utah schools."Utah by far has the biggest problem. Robins has had a few reported cases (of Robitussin-DM abuse) over the years, but nothing of major significance," C. Neil Jensen, association executive director, said Friday. "But this right now has got everyone alarmed."
One parent disturbed by reports of widespread abuse is Utah House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, who Thursday enlisted the assistance of the pharmaceutical association.
A subsequent chat with his teenage son confirmed Moody's fears: Salt Lake youths, seeking an artificial high, are abusing the drug.
"It's kind of like airplane glue. We need to educate these kids to the danger and harm that can come to them by abusing the drug," Jensen said. "It's not just the children. We are also going to have to educate parents. They, in my opinion, so often are not aware their kids are doing these things."
Jensen said the educational program, to be taken into the schools by pharmacists and other medical professionals, will discuss drug abuse in general "because in the case of Robitussin-DM, the product itself is not damaging. "But obviously kids are getting something out of it."
According to some abusers, what they are getting is a "buzz" or "high," reportedly caused by the dextromethorphan in Robitussin-DM and 76 other antitussive products.
"At your highest peak you get an incredible adrenaline rush. The veins pop out on your hands and you shake you are so excited," said one repeated abuser. "You are totally disoriented - to the point you don't know where you are. Sometimes 10 minutes go by and it seems like hours."
The Utah Pharmaceutical Association, seeking to stop the abuse, Friday sent letters to members of the Retail Grocery Association and Retail Merchants Association.
"We are asking them to help control what's on the shelves," Jensen said. "Most stores are already trying to limit what is on the shelves, but we are asking them to either put it behind the counter or certainly put out a small quantity and track it."
Concerned citizens in the Alta High School area are currently circulating petitions also urging that Robitussin-DM be placed behind the counter with prescription drugs so pharmacists can better monitor its use.
Because of skyrocketing thefts, some Salt Lake stores have stopped stocking the drug.
"We need to find out the extent of the problem," Moody said. The interim Health Committee will look at the abuse level, the availability of the drug, and what can and should be done.
"I don't want my wife not to be able to purchase the drug if she needs it," he said. "But we need to look at making it a prescription drug or restrict sales to those over 21."
Or, Moody said, Robitussin-DM needs to be taken off the shelf until this latest preppy fad fades.