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House votes to limit Internet sales of cough-medicine drug

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would tighten bulk Internet sales of a drug known to teenagers as DXM or Dex, an ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough medicines.

Though millions of Americans use medicines containing dextromethorphan safely each year, taken in extremely large quantities DXM produces a hallucinogenic high that can cause brain damage, seizures and death.

Nearly one in 10 teens, or about 1.7 million, admitted using cough medicine to get high in the past year, according to a recently released study from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

The House approved the bill 407-8.

The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., would make it illegal to distribute unfinished dextromethorphan to a person or company not previously registered, licensed or approved by federal and state agencies.

Larsen introduced the legislation after the April 2005 deaths of two Whatcom County, Wash., teens, Ryan Morgan, 17, and Cory Carlson, 19. Medical tests showed that both had consumed large amounts of pure DXM. The drug had been bought on the Internet from two Indiana men, who later were sentenced to more than six years each in federal prison.

The deaths of three other youths also were linked to DXM purchased on the Web site.

"The loss of these children is a tragedy that will forever be felt by their families and our community," Larsen said. "In spite of these and other DXM-related deaths, kids continue to have easy access online to large quantities of this dangerous drug."

DXM is a non-narcotic cough suppressant, and it's a popular myth that drinking over-the-counter cough medicine can produce a buzz similar to alcohol, said Steve Pasierb, the president of the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

However, DXM also can be purchased in a more dangerous powdered form on the Internet. Teenagers snort powdered DXM or place it in gel caps and wash it down with vodka or other alcohol, Pasierb said.

This was the third time that Larsen's bill had cleared the House, but the Senate has never taken action.

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