Teens Using Cold Medicine to Get High

ByABC News
January 8, 2004, 6:28 PM

Jan. 9 -- Parents have their hands full trying to keep kids away from alcohol, smoking and drugs. Now there's yet another substance that teens are using to get high legally. They're taking big doses of ordinary cold medicine.

Watch John Stossel's full report on kids abusing Coricidin tonight on 20/20.

A group of kids who spoke to ABCNEWS said they were using Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold Pills to get stoned. The ingredient that gives kids a high is dextromethorphan, or DXM. It suppresses coughs safely, but in large amounts it produces a chemical imbalance in the brain that allows the kids to get high.

Click here for information on your local poison control center.

Dextromethorphan is in more than 100 cold medicines, not just Coricidin, but one type of Coricidin has the particular cocktail of ingredients that the kids prefer. This week, the American Association of Poison Control reported teen abuse of these types of over-the-counter cold medications has doubled in the last four years.

It Tastes Just Like Candy

Molly, 17, described how taking a large dose of the pills made her feel, "You turn your head and everything went in slow motion. It was like you were in The Matrix or something."

The abuse of Coricidin is so appealing, kids say, because it's easy to get, it's legal, and parents and teachers usually don't have any idea they're taking it.

"As far as drugs go, you don't need to know a dealer, you know. If you can find a Walgreen's or a grocery store, you're set," said Jeff Helgeson, a 20-year-old from Minneapolis. Helgeson says he's been getting high on Coricidin for four years.

Some kids call the habit "skittling," because the pills look like the popular candy Skittles. "It's just like pot, except it's better and it tastes just like candy and your parents won't know if you get high cause your eyes won't be red," said Ashley, 16.