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Youth Life!





Robo-Tripping
Author: Cesar Froyland





I never heard of the dangers of cough syrup until I 
learned that my neighbor was getting high from it. I 
found out that cough syrup is not only used to 
suppress coughs, but some people, including teenagers, 
take large doses of cough syrup to get high.

These “syrup heads,” as they are sometimes called, 
will drink an entire bottle of cough syrup like 
Robitussin, which is often called “robo-dosing” 
or “robo-tripping.” Other times people will swallow 
many cough suppressant pills sometimes 
called “skittles.” The fact is that since 2000 there 
has been a four-fold increase in cough suppressant 
abuse by teenagers, according to poison control 
experts. 

A 21-year-old Watsonville resident, who I’ll call 
Andrea, began taking large doses of cough syrup when 
she was 16. Her parents were going through a divorce 
and she thought getting high with cough syrup would 
make her mind distracted and she would forget about 
problems at home. 

“(When I took cough syrup) I felt like I did not have 
any problems, but then I didn’t know what had happened 
after I did it.” Whenever Andrea took large doses of 
cough syrup, she would black out, she said, almost 
crying. She said that she would never do it again 
because now she has a baby. “(Cough syrup) was the 
worst error I’ve ever made in my life.”

People have used cough syrup to get high for a long 
time. In the ’70s cough syrup contained codeine and 
alcohol and many people, including teenagers, would 
get a buzz from using more than the recommended 
dosage. Now most cough syrups no longer contain 
alcohol. Cough syrup with codeine, an addictive 
opiate, is only available by prescription. But now 
more than 125 cough remedies in the United States such 
as Robitussin and NyQuil contain Dextromethorphan 
hydrobromide, or DXM. DXM is a synthetic drug that is 
similar to morphine. 

When somebody takes large quantities of cough 
medicine, the first thing they usually do is vomit it 
up. However, experienced syrup heads will ingest the 
medicine quickly enough so their bodies will absorb 
the DXM. Then they might have hallucinations and out 
of body experiences. Other side effects include 
nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, 
high blood pressure, and headaches. The more serious 
side effects are depressed breathing, elevated blood 
pressure, an irregular heartbeat, seizures, comas and 
death.

Rich Westphal, a supervisor at the Santa Cruz County 
Narcotic Enforcement Team, said that he has not had 
any reports of cough syrup abuse in the Santa Cruz 
County. But he is aware that teenagers use cough syrup 
to get high.

“For four or five dollars you can get loaded (from 
cough syrup) and be under the influence for six hours, 
so it’s fairly, unfortunately inexpensive,” said 
Westphal. 

Westphal said that the Druge Enforcement Agency is 
monitoring abuse of DXM and it could be added to the 
controlled substance act.

Almost all the people in the U.S. have a cough 
remedy in their house, which is why it is so easy for 
teens to get access to it. Teens can also buy cough 
syrup at any drug store, since there are no legal 
restrictions to buy cough syrup in California so far. 
However, because of the use of certain cough syrups 
for methamphetamine production, some states have 
restricted the amount of cough syrup that can be 
purchased. The federal government is also considering 
restricting sales. 

Although a large dose of cough syrup may give somebody 
a buzz, it can also kill them. A 22-year-old college 
student in Ames, Iowa died from DXM overdose in 
October of 2002, according to an article in USA Today. 
In most parts of the U.S., parents are becoming more 
concerned about children who use cough syrup to get 
high. Some of these parents think the only way out of 
this problem is to make cough syrup available only 
with a doctor’s prescription. 

I disagree with this proposed way of selling medicine 
because there are many people that cannot go to the 
doctor because they do not have money. The drug DXM is 
available without a prescription because, when used 
properly, it has proven to be a safe and effective. 
Over the counter drugs are the only ways in which some 
people cure themselves. But parents need to be aware 
if cough syrup is missing.