In the midst of a heroin crisis that plagues the state, Ohio lawmakers advanced efforts to curb drug abuse among teens with passage of a bill in the House of Representatives that would prohibit non-prescription sales of dextromethorphan to minors.
The cough suppressant, commonly found in cough and cold remedies sold over the counter, has steadily become the object of adolescent and teen cravings for an easy high, according to health officials.
“There are a number of alternative names it goes by, including triple c’s, robo, skittles, velvet syrup, and Vitamin D,” said Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Dextromethorphan can also be used in combination with other drugs such as methylenedioxy methamphetamine, also called Molly or MDMA.
“Unfortunately, dextromethorphan is widely available and is becoming very popular with adolescents and young adults.”
Spiller was on hand in recent weeks to offer testimony in support of House Bill 73 to members of the Health Committee.
The bill is a facsimile of legislation introduced during the 131st General Assembly of the Ohio Legislature.
The Dayton lawmaker jointly sponsoring HB 73, Republican Rep. Jeffrey Rezabek, shared his experience with the issue as a juvenile defense attorney.
“My client would mix Robitussin with beer and it would create some sort of hallucinogenic response,” he told fellow lawmakers. “She is just one of many of our youths statewide who engage in a sort of ‘robo-trip.’
“Dex is a safe and effective ingredient that is used in cough and cold medicines, but consuming 25-50 times the recommended dosage, these types of medicines can cause the type of feeling that our youths are seeking.”
Spiller said the poison center sees between 100 to 125 cases of abuse of dextromethorphan each year.
The typical case is a high school-age patient abusing an over-the-counter product arriving in the ER with confusion, hallucinations, agitation, rapid heart rate, and hypertension.
In rare cases, abusers can suffer seizures, he added.
“In Ohio, since 2000, the poison center has treated more than 2,000 patients for Dextromethorphan abuse,” Spiller said. “Of these cases, more than 1,500 ended up being admitted to the emergency room; 1,288 of these cases were considered serious, with two fatalities reported.
“Two-thirds were children between the ages of 13 and 18.”
Republican Rep. Kyle Koehler of Springfield, HB 73’s other joint sponsor, explained the prohibition would simply make law the practice already enforced by major retailers.
“Right now, if you were to go to any of the major retailers and attempted to purchase any product containing dex, you would be required to show your ID to the clerk,” he told lawmakers. “Unfortunately, if you were to purchase this same type of medicine in a local convenience store or gas station, you would not be required to prove you are of age to purchase this product.
“This bill would attempt to close that loophole and serve as the next step in our ongoing battle against drug abuse in our state.”
In addition to the prohibition of sales to minors, the measure would make violation of that prohibition a minor misdemeanor.
An amendment to provide qualified immunity to any retailer or an employee of a retailer in a resultant civil suit, arising from failing to prevent the sale of dextromethorphan to a person under 18, was approved in the final draft of the legislation.
HB 73, which awaits Senate consideration, cleared the House on an 89-4 vote.