Vancouver Island teens overdosing on cold meds
Health care workers seeking pharmacy reforms to curb abuse
Posted: Mar 19, 2011 7:06 PM PT
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2011 9:35 AM PT
Dozens of young teenagers and pre-teen children in Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley have ended up in the emergency room after overdosing on cold medications.
'They're wandering around in a trance-like state.'—Emergency physician Dr. Valerie Cunningham
Dr. Valerie Cunningham, an emergency physician at the Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan, said she has seen children as young as 11 stunned after popping entire sheets of pills in the quest for a morphine-like high.
"The children that we're seeing are being picked off the street because they're wandering around in a trance-like state," Cunningham said. "So you can imagine how dangerous that would be if they wandered into the river."
The medications are pills containing a mix of acetaminophen, best known as the active ingredient in the pain killer Tylenol, and dextromethorphan, or "DM" or "DXM," a common cough-suppressant used in many cough medications such as Robitussin DM.
Cunningham said the Cowichan tribes have been speaking out about cough medicine abuse among youth, which makes her concerned that she has seen only a small fraction of the problem.
"I think for every one we see there may be dozens of other ones at home that are still abusing it," she said.
Doctors, youth workers and concerned parents are calling on the region's pharmacies to move the medications behind the counter, where pharmacists have greater control over dispensing them.
B.C.'s chief medical officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said when used incorrectly, the medicines pose a real health risk. At high doses, the pills can cause loss of consciousness, liver damage and other serious complications, including death.B.C.'s chief medical officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, says cough and cold medicines pose a real health risk when used incorrectly. (CBC)
"If you take too much you can suppress respiration. It would be possible to have a respiratory arrest as a result of taking too much," Kendall said.
"So the issue of whether it should be behind the counter is probably a sensible question to look at. And certainly it would be concern about young people buying large quantities of it," he said.
"I think that's up to the pharmacist to kind of restrict the sale."
Flagged transactionsDuncan, B.C.
At the London Drugs in Duncan, a small town between Victoria and Nanaimo, pharmacy operations manager Shawn Sangha said he has done just that.
"At the Duncan branch we've removed all capsules and tablets containing the Tylenol and DM products off the floor so it's not accessible to the public, and moved it behind the pharmacy counter in the glass case," he said.
Removing the products from the floor will prevent shoplifting, Sangha said, and his pharmacy has undertaken further measures to track strange buying patterns.
"We have also take another step to program our tills where if multiple products are being purchased it will create a flag and then a pharmacist will intervene."
Marshall Moleschi, the registrar for the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, said pharmacists are "very aware" of the potential for abuse with these products and have been asked to look out for unusual behaviour.
"The issue of using large quantities quantities of medication — way above the recommended dose — is not a new issue," he said.
And while pharmacists can try to act as sentinels against the abuse of over-the-counter drugs, it's a tough job, Moleschi said.
"It's difficult to detect something when they're only buying one package — and they're taking the whole package at once," he said.
On a periodic basis, Moleschi said, the idea of taking a lot of cold medicine takes hold in one or two high schools in the province and teenagers end up in the hospital after drinking a bottle of cough medicine.
In response to the latest rash of overdosing, the college sent an advisory notice to B.C. pharmacists on Friday.
"We have given directive to monitor the sales and asked for a voluntary 'put behind the counter' in this case. And we have done it a number — I guess, twice before."
Moleschi said there needs to be a public education program about the dangers of abusing any and all medications, not just the cold cocktails. He also said some of the cold medications that are being abused are sold in places where pharmacists aren't on staff.With files from CBC's Catherine Rolfsen in Victoria and CBC's Emily Elias in Vancouver
Latest British Columbia News Headlines
- BMO building re-opens after suspicious package scare
- A suspicious package that triggered a partial evacuation at the Bank of Montreal building on West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver is not dangerous, emergency officials say. more »
- Skagit bridge to reopen Wednesday with temporary span
- The Skagit River bridge on I-5 will open on Wednesday with a temporary span replacing the collapsed section, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday. more »
- Vancouver airport CEO takes aim at cross-border travellers
- The new CEO of the Vancouver International Airport says his biggest challenge is to stem the flow of B.C. travellers heading across the border for cheaper flights. more »
- Police pepper-sprayed Abbotsford camp, says homeless woman
- A homeless woman in Abbotsford, B.C. has come forward to say she is behind allegations local police slashed and pepper-sprayed tents at a homeless camp. more »
Top News Headlines
- Senators call for 'zero tolerance' on harassment in RCMP
- The RCMP should amend its code of conduct to explicitly define and prohibit harassment, a Senate committee is recommending in a newly tabled report. more »
- Are e-cigarettes safe to puff?
- As electronic or e-cigarettes grow in popularity, some health advocates want them to be regulated. more »
- Most groups don't want return of Trudeau speaking fees
- Most of the 17 charitable and other organizations that have paid speaking fees to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during his time as an MP say they aren't interested in having their fees returned, despite Trudeau's offer on the weekend to reimburse any organization unhappy with his services. more »
- Google asks secret court to lift gag on surveillance
- Google is asking the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift its long-standing gag order on how often the company is asked to turn over data about its customers to the U.S. government. more »
- Parents of son 'brutally beaten' playing hockey want charges
- Police slashed homeless tents, say advocates in Abbotsford, B.C.
- The class photo that made a father cry
- Failed condo pre-sale deal costs Vancouver buyer $750K
- Teen killed at mill near Vernon identified
- Prison guard files murder trauma claim
- Pedestrian injured in parking spot row
- Death of boy in B.C. cancer ride 'heartbreaking'
- Wolf seen running along mountain highway again