OTC Drug Abuse

The Season of OTC Abuse Has Begun - Are You Seeing the Signs?

May 4, 2004

By Patricia A Kotze


Johnny was frequently sick at work. And as such, Johnny always had stuff in his desk drawer and often visited the company’s first-aid-kit. Johnny was seen popping pills, drinking unknown tea concoctions and shots of cough syrup. In the workplace, we the employers have always been concerned with the on-company time and property use, sale and or distribution of marijuana, cocaine and speed. But today, Sudafed, Vicks, Robitussen, and Tylenol Cold pills could be the newer, cheaper, over the counter (OTC) legally abused drugs, vitamins, and other type homeopathic remedies, and they’re being used right in front of our faces.

In prescribed or responsible doses these OTC’s will help in the curing process but in large doses it can cause heart attacks, seizures and in some circumstances death. Roboting or euphoria is the intended feeling for why these medicines are abused by people at work or in social settings. The attractive ingredient is DXM (Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide, DXM HBr) which is classified with dissociative anesthetics. These OTC’s come in ready to use forms, pills, tablets (to ingest or chop/snort), powder and the favorite, syrup. Heavy users of the syrup brands have been known to ingest about 3 – 4 bottles daily.

DXM can be purchased wherever cough suppressants are sold and in a pure form as a pill in Mexico and in all forms over the Internet. Additionally, the Internet provides easy to find instructions on how to extract DXM from gel-caps and syrups and thus enabling the person to ingest it orally (perhaps in soda or coffee) or to even inject it directly into ones system as heroin started its popularity in the 60’s.

In the 60’s, DXM replaced codeine and some of the opiates which were being abused by people then; so it’s been around for a long time. But today it is popular with the younger adults and adolescents and for the same reasons it is easy to find and buy.

The effects of this type of high lasts for 4-8 hours depending on how it is ingested into the system and the form the DXM is in. Because of the side effects and the withdrawal symptoms which can be everything from vomiting to weight loss, addiction is not usually an end result. But as with other drugs, it may lead a person down the road to finding the ultimate drug for consumption and the high. Another method of use is when DXM is extracted and then mixed with MDMA (Ecstasy) or special K to produce a more intense experience and I don’t mean the cereal…

Future legislation may require identification henceforth for proof of age to purchase these basic OTC drugs. Certain measures have already been taken with the elimination of Ephedra in weight loss pills and some abused steroids have been restricted from the high profile, semi- and professional athletes’ use. In addition, this recreational abuse of the DXM has now tweaked the attention of many local, state and federal officials to increase the monitoring of its use and warnings to the consumer. They may pull it from the counters and place it back on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) list of 1970 if the abuse warrants it’s rescheduling. As employers, our front-line supervisors need to be vigilant towards the consumption of these OTC’s by our employees. It is also our responsibility to institute appropriate substance abuse policies with the assistance from an employment law attorney. What we don’t want to be accused of is enabling Johnny to become an abuser or a long-term addict. But then what happens to those of us who use OTC’s responsibly - is it back to moms’ homemade chicken soup?

About the Author:

Patricia A. Kotze, is Managing Partner at Diversified Risk Management, Inc. (DRM), a licensed, nationwide investigation firm and has over 20 years of experience in labor and employment related workplace investigations. The firm offers a broad range of specialized risk management and investigation services that are designed to control loss and minimize exposure by providing innovative and strategic business solutions. DRM assists corporations, non-profit organizations and law firms in identifying, mitigating, and responding to risks through a comprehensive and integrated suite of professional service offerings. Ms. Kotze can be reached at 800.810.9508 or by email at by email.