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Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2005 Sep;44(7):565-8.

Adolescent abuse of dextromethorphan.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, Falls Church, Virginia 22180, USA.


Dextromethorphan hydrobromide (DXM), a constituent of more than 125 patent cough/cold remedies, is the most popular antitussive medication in the United States. Cough syrups or capsules also contain additional ingredients such as acetaminophen, chlorpheniramine maleate, guaifenesin, and/or pseudoephedrine, and toxicity with overdosage is additive to that of dextromethorphan alone. An unknown number of adolescents in the United States and Europe intoxicate themselves with acute megadoses of dextromethorphan. A megadose of DXM is defined as 5 to 10 times the dose recommended for control of annoying nonproductive coughs. Although a moderate overdose of pure DXM hydrobromide is free of serious adverse effects, approximately 5% of persons of European ethnicity lack the ability to metabolize the drug normally, leading to rapid acute toxic levels. Variable quantities of pure dextromethorphan powder in multiples of 1 gram are easily available from the worldwide web, including e-Bay. Recipe-like extraction procedures are quickly available on the Internet for seemingly simple and inexpensive home manufacture of concentrated dextromethorphan powder from Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold tablets (street name triple C). Adolescents intoxicate themselves at parties and even before or after school since the drug is legal, relatively inexpensive, and easily purchased or shoplifted at drug or convenient stores. Acute megadoses of the drug have profound psychological and physiological effects similar to those of phencyclidine (PCP). Megadoses of dextromethorphan used to self-intoxicate, can produce a false-positive screening test for phencyclidine in a urine specimen.

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