Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse
P.O. Box 80529
Austin, TX 78708-0529
Doctors and pharmacists should be aware of scams to obtain codeine cough syrup to get high, say officials at the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
“This is a drug of abuse,” says TCADA's Dr. Jane Maxwell, a leading researcher of drug trends. “Hospitals, doctors and pharmacies need to realize that some drug users have figured out ways to manipulate the system to get codeine syrup.”
The Commission released a study today that examines the illegal use of codeine cough syrup and the ways users obtain the drug. Users with insurance or Medicaid have learned which symptoms to describe to get a prescription for cough syrup, the study says. The study was conducted by Dr. William N. Elwood, adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.
“Sometimes they won't give me the codeine syrup,” said one user interviewed for the study. “When that happens, I'll go back to the doctor and say it hasn't worked and I need something stronger. And then I get it. If that doesn't work, though, I'll just go to the emergency room around shift change.”
Other users buy cough syrup that has been stolen or smuggled in from Mexico. The price of an eight-ounce bottle of codeine syrup averages $200 on the streets in Houston, says Jerry Ellis, the diversion program manager in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Houston office.
“It's certainly still running rampant in the Houston area,” Ellis says of the illegal use of codeine cough syrup. “We also have received anecdotal information that it's spreading to San Antonio and Austin.”
Some users buy unfilled prescriptions obtained by people with insurance. “They're coming up with more scams all the time to get this,” Ellis says. While the abuse of over-the-counter cough syrups is widespread in the United States, the abuse of prescription cough syrup appears to be limited to Texas, Dr. Elwood said. “This is a problem that really seems to have originated in Houston and is spreading to other cities in Texas,” he said. There were 14 deaths in Texas in 1998 that involved the main ingredients in cough syrups, including codeine.
“Codeine cough syrup, and even over-the-counter cough syrups, can be dangerous, especially when mixed with other drugs,” Dr. Maxwell says. “This is a serious problem, and we want to the public – particularly medical professionals – to be aware of this growing problem.”