In the wake of reports of widespread abuse of Robitussin-DM by Salt Lake area teenagers, grocery stores and pharmacies Friday began removing the product from shelves and selling it by request only.

The firms are putting it behind prescription counters to better monitor its use and prevent thefts by potential abusers.Employees of Smith's Food & Drug began pulling the popular cough suppressant off the shelves of 17 Salt Lake area stores Friday. The decision to put the medication behind the counter was made by corporate officials Thursday.

Dan's Foods also removed Robitussin-DM from store shelves Friday but will be selling it over-the-counter through their pharmacies. Harmon's Grocery stores are considering a similar move.

Some Albertson's Food Centers have stopped stocking the drug because of the increasing number of thefts. And Osco Drug officials said they will be closely monitoring the cough suppressant aisle, which is in front of the pharmacies, for any potential abuse.

Concern about abuse of the over-the-counter drug was ignited earlier this month by the suicides of two Jordan District high school students. Toxicology reports on the victims revealed high levels of one of Robitussin-DM's ingredients, dextromethorphan.

Widespread thefts of Robitussin-DM in area stores were evidence that abuse stretches beyond the boundaries of Jordan District.

Psychologists say the medicine has become the newest preppy fad drug. Unlike alcohol, marijuana or other drugs, the cough syrup is legal and has been readily available.

Until now.

A group of more than 100 parents and teens, concerned about the drug's mood-altering effect, last week began circulating petitions urging that Robitussin-DM be placed behind the counter with prescription drugs. The petition drive has garnered more than 500 signatures.

On Friday, the Utah Pharmaceutical Association joined the movement to control the abuse of the substance.

C. Neil Jensen, association executive director, said letters were sent to members of the Retail Grocers Association, Retail Merchants Association and pharmacists throughout the state.

"We asked 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."

Additionally, the association, in cooperation with A.H. Robins, manufacturer of Robitussin-DM, will soon launch an anti-drug educational program for use in Utah schools.

Jensen said the educational program, to be taken into the schools by pharmacists and other medical professionals, will discuss drug abuse in general "because Robitussin-DM, when used correctly, is not damaging."

The program, Jensen said, will also be targeted at parents. "They, in my opinion, so often are not aware their kids are doing these things."

The legislative interim Health Committee next month will also look at the abuse level, the availability of the drug and what can and should be done. Robitussin-DM will also be the key topic of discussion at the State Pharmaceutical Board on Tuesday.

"There are so many other products that are similar (to Robitussin-DM) that you can't take everything off the shelf that can be abused, especially when a lot of things out there could be worse."

The American Pharmaceutical Association lists 76 other antitussive products that contain dextromethorphan.

"But maybe this action (removal from the shelves) will ease the hysteria and raise the level of awareness so people will be aware of the potential misuse," Jensen said. "As pharmacists, we are taught to be health care providers, concerned about the communities we practice in. We don't want to see anyone harmed in anyway."