A rising trend among Aussie youth has prompted a number of doctors to come forward with a stark word of warning for abusers.
Perth pharmacies have begun to crack down against a surge in “robotripping” amongst young people, a practice involving the mix of high doses of over-the-counter cough syrup with soft drinks to achieve a high.
Pharmacy Guild of Australia WA Branch President Andrew Ngeow spoke out against the trend this week, explaining how high doses of the easily obtained medicine can end horribly for people unaware of the side effects.
“Quite simply it’s the use of cough mixture in higher than normal doses … and it’s being used to give a physical or mental high,” Dr Ngeow told West Live host Ben O’Shea in an interview.
“Local medicines used well are life saving and can help people immensely. But used incorrectly … its incredibly dangerous and this is an incredibly dangerous practice.
“Mixed with alcohol and mixed with other substances, it has all sorts of effects.”
The phenomenon is nothing new amongst teenagers. News articles have covered the dangerous side effects of robotripping for well over a decade, with pockets of cough syrup abuse sprouting across the globe causing alarm amongst medical professionals.
However, the current trend in WA has left doctors like Dr Ngeow extremely wary, warning pharmacies to keep an eye out for potential misuse.
“When the pharmacist has a conversation with the patient around what they need it for they then have to determine whether it is being used for the right purposes,” he said.
“It would be expected that the pharmacist would refuse sale if there is a belief they are using it for things like robo tripping.”
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners addiction medicine chair Dr Hester Wilson also sent out a warning against the dangerous trend, cautioning potential users of the side effects of the “legal” high.
She said young people chasing excitement is nothing new, but hoped the youth could better understand the consequences of their choices.
“For young people, consuming cough medicines in high doses is a bit of excitement, danger and risk when they are partying with friends,” she said via WA Today.
“Human beings as a species are always looking for ways to have a good time and intoxicating substances have been with us for millennia.
“These medicines are seen as safe because they are available at a chemist, and they are when taken at the recommended dose. But there is a risk which goes up as the dose increases.
“DXM is sedating and also dissociative and a hallucinogenic, so users may not be aware of what’s going on around them.”
High doses of DXM causes hallucinations and out-of-body sensations. The drug’s effects has been likened to the effects of ketamine, nitrous oxide and the hallucinogenic drug PCP, with the high lasting as long as six hours.
Dr Wilson said GPs were also seeing patients who had developed a dependency on cough mixtures containing highly addictive opioids.
“Rikodeine does have codeine in it which can be addictive,” she said.
“I have someone I’m seeing who is drinking four bottles a day. They are racing from pharmacy to pharmacy every day.
“The addiction has overtaken their life.”
Dr Hester said banning the medications would not fix the problem, insisting the youth would simply “move on to something else” to get high.
“The world has changed and access to information including ways to get high is much easier for this generation with the internet,” she said.
“We need to teach them online literacy and educate teenagers about risk and understand that 15-year-olds have developing brains and haven’t learnt how to put the brakes on.”
Senior lecturer in addiction at Edith Cowan University Stephen Bright warned the addition of alcohol to cough syrup significantly compounded the risk, labelling it the “trifecta of death”.
“It’s been around a long time, but it is unclear how widespread its use is in Australia as it’s not clearly captured in any of our drug monitoring systems,” he said.
“If people are using cough medicines for recreational purposes they should never mix it with alcohol.
“More people die from overdoses on pharmaceutical medications than all the illegal drugs combined.”