PHOENIX - A new state law banning over-the-counter sales of certain cough medicines to minors goes into effect Thursday, adding Arizona to several states that have passed similar measures.
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant used in more than 100 medications and is safe at normal doses, but it can cause hallucinations and effects similar to illicit drugs in larger amounts.
"Kids figured this out, and then they started mixing it with things and creating cocktails," said Republican state Rep. Heather Carter. "It's just cheap, easy and accessible."
Arizona's cough medicine law passed overwhelmingly during the 2014 legislative session. California, New York, Virginia and Washington already enforce similar laws, and other states have passed bills that will go into effect before 2016.
Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, said he's happy to see states like Arizona taking legislation on cough-medicine abuse into their own hands because Congress has been slow in getting similar legislation passed at the federal level.
Four percent of U.S. children admitted using the drug in 2013, according to a study by Monitoring the Future.
"It's not a huge number, but it keeps coming up because it's driven by social media," Pasierb said. "A lot of the kids would drink an entire bottle of the medicine or take an entire packet of pills, and they'd end up in the emergency room. They're better a few hours after, but it keeps happening."
Dextromethorphan may be the reason why children abuse cough medicine, but it's not the only ingredient that could be harmful if taken in large doses.
Ingredients like acetaminophen are also used in cough medicine and could cause liver failure and lead to death if abused, said Steven Pray, a professor at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.