House bill limits cough medicine sales to adults

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Two members of the House have introduced legislation that would limit the sale of certain over-the-counter cough medicines to people 18 and older, an effort to limit access to an ingredient in these medicines that some kids are using to get high.

Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) proposed the Preventing Abuse of Cough Medicine Treatment (PACT) Act, H.R. 3969. Under their bill, cough medicines containing the ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) could only be bought by adults or by people under 18, if they had a prescription from a doctor.

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Braley said abuse of DXM by teens in his home state has become "prevalent" and said Congress needs to act to deny them access to OTC products that anyone could walk in and purchase.

"Millions of Americans use these cold medicines responsibly to gain relief from coughs and colds," Braley said last week. "However, these medicines are available at every supermarket, drugstore and convenience store in the country giving teenagers unlimited access to purchase and abuse them."

DXM can cause hallucinations when enough is consumed, and anti-drug groups note people who take it through cough medicine are also at risk of overdosing on other ingredients found in these medicines.

Braley added that in 2013, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found 1 in 20 teens in high school are trying to get high off of OTC cough medicines and need to take excessive doses to reach that high.

Under the bill, retailers who sell these medicines would have to ask for the identification of potential buyers, unless they appear to be 25 or older. Sales could not be made to anyone under 18, unless they present a prescription from a doctor, or if they present a valid military ID.

Retailers who violate the rules would face civil penalties of up to $1,000 for the first violation, $2,000 for the second and $5,000 for third and subsequent violation.

The House bill is a companion to a bipartisan bill introduced in March by Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). That bill, S. 644, is co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).