Florida Bans Teens From Buying Cough Syrup

By McCarton Ackerman 01/10/17

The ban is being praised by Florida health professionals who believe that cough medicine can be a gateway drug. 

Woman pouring spoonful of medicine.

Florida kicked off 2017 with a new law that bans teens from buying cough medicine in order to prevent them from potentially scoring an easy over-the-counter high. Those who appear to be under 25 years old will be required to show their ID at the register.

Senate Bill 938, which went into effect on Jan. 1, applies to anyone under age 18 and is specifically applied to cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM). The ingredient can be found in numerous over-the-counter products including Robitussin, NyQuil, Alka Seltzer Plus and Tylenol Cough & Cold.

"I noticed that my shelf was cleared off, every now and then. And I didn't understand why, until I realized people were using it in the streets,” said Dawn Rantinella, a pharmacist in West Palm Beach, to local news outlet WPTV. "We started buying smaller bottles instead of the bigger bottles and regulating ourselves on it so we would see what was going on with the bottles.”

The new law was praised by health professionals throughout the state, many of whom believe that cough medicine can be a gateway drug to other substances.

"It's definitely going to be a game changer,” said Nita Pettis, a primary therapist with South Ocean Recovery drug rehabilitation in West Palm Beach. "Hopefully it will help to decrease the number of people that become addicted to more harder, life-changing and life-devastating drugs."

A 2009 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that more than three million young Americans had abused cold or cough medicine, with dextromethorphan being the most widely abused over-the-counter substance. U.S. poison control centers reported a seven-fold increase in cases involving 15- and 16-year-olds with DXM between 1999 and 2004.

The trend among American teens has even resorted to gross extremes, with some reportedly “butt chugging” cough syrup to get high.

One manufacturer even took matters into its own hands to address abuse of its products. In April 2014, pharmaceutical company Actavis ceased all sales and production of its Promethazine Codeine product due to it widely being used in the drug concoction known as "sizzurp," a combination of sugary soft drinks, hard candy and prescription cough syrup. A single serving of sizzurp contains 25 times the recommended dosage of codeine.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.