Cough medicines carded

June 24, 2007|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Cigarettes and some cough suppressants now have one thing in common: Users must be at least 18 years old to buy them at some local stores.

Martin's Food Markets, Giant Food Stores and Tops Markets in May began carding anyone trying to buy over-the-counter cough and cold remedies containing dextromethorphan, a nonnarcotic cough suppressant some teenagers are abusing, said Tracy Pawelski, spokeswoman for Martin's Food Markets.

"Sales restrictions strike an appropriate balance between curbing abuse and preserving consumer access," said Elizabeth Funderburk, spokeswoman for The Consumer Healthcare Products Administration, which is made up of more than 65 over-the-counter medicine and dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors.

Many major retailers have placed age restrictions on the sale of items containing dextromethorphan in recent years - CVS, Rite Aid and Wal-Mart stores, for example, have enforced similar restrictions on dextromethorphan products, spokespeople with those companies said. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1954.


Talk of restricting sales of the cough medicine ingredient began several years ago when the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reported that one in 10 teenagers admitted they have abused over-the-counter medicines, Funderburk said.

Some teenagers are taking "large amounts ... 25 to 50 times the amount of cough medicine recommended" to get high, and some are mixing it with other drugs and alcohol, Funderburk said. "Robo tripping" and "skittling" are common slang terms for such use, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site at

Funderburk said teens are getting information on how to abuse the drug on the Internet, and are even buying online the raw, unfinished ingredient, which is "very concentrated and very dangerous."

The Consumer Healthcare Products Administration is partnering with D.A.R.E. America to develop supplementary curriculum on medicine abuse for fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders, she said.

Curriculum for D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, traditionally focuses on decision-making and on gateway drugs - alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, said Claude J. Nelson, Maryland D.A.R.E. coordinator. The curriculum has not been taught in Washington County Public Schools for three to four years, he said.

Restrictions are needed

Still, Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said over-the-counter medicine abuse isn't a big problem in Washington County.

"In our area, we've really not experienced much of a problem, but we certainly appreciate the pharmacies that volunteer to do these types of things," Mullendore said.

Jeremy Rodriguez, manager of Martin's Food Market on Dual Highway, said workers posted signs in the store. Cashiers are prompted to check for identification when they scan an item containing dextromethorphan.

Rodriguez said there are more than 100 items that contain the ingredient.

Store patron Connie Bowman, 63, of Boonsboro, said she applauds the new restriction.

"There should have been more control over it a long time ago," Bowman said. "Any cough syrup has a certain drug in it. Kids, they'll try anything they can get their hands on."

Parent Dee Moulin, 50, of Funkstown, said she feels parents need to assert more control. She said she had an "open pharmacy" at home, but her daughter, who never was sick, didn't abuse it.

"I think it (the restriction) will be helpful if the kids really do abuse it," Moulin said. "Parents should watch, too."

Chad Breichner, 21, of Hagerstown, said he didn't know of too many teenagers who abused over-the-counter medicines growing up, but thinks that the restriction is needed.

"It seems pretty easy to get," Breichner said. "It's better to keep it out of their hands."

Rodriguez said the store has had some shoplifting problems with over-the-counter medicines.

"You're never going to stop that unless you put every medicine behind the counter," he said.

Pseudoephedrine regulations

Rodriguez said patrons adjusted when products containing pseudoephedrine were placed behind the counter last year.

The Food and Drug Administration banned over-the-counter sales of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine - an ingredient used to illegally manufacture the highly addictive stimulant methamphetamine - last year. The action, which sprang from the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005, also required retailers to ask for a photo identification from people buying the products; that merchants keep records of those consumers for at least two years; and that the quantity of pseudoephedrine be limited for a single sale and for monthly sales, according to the Food and Drug Administration Web site.

Some states, not including Maryland, already had issued their own regulations regarding the sale of pseudoephedrine before the federal law took effect Sept. 30, 2006.

When used properly, pseudoephedrine treats nasal and sinus congestion and sinus pressure, according to the Sudafed Web site.

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