A new Texas law, HB 1518 by Coleman, prohibits businesses from selling certain over-the-counter medicines to minors. Supporters say the goal of the legislation is to prevent teens from using cough medicine as a gateway drug to more dangerous substances.
The new law prohibits the sale to minors of over-the-counter medicines containing dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant found in drugs like Mucinex, NyQuil, and Robitussin. Supporters cite a study conducted in 2018 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found one in 30 teens abuse over-the-counter cough medicine containing dextromethorphan.
Dextromethorphan is considered a safe ingredient when used as directed, but when taken in high doses or abused, can create a euphoric effect and lead to addiction and harmful side effects like seizures, hallucinations, coma, and death.
HB 1518 prohibits a business from dispensing, distributing, or selling dextromethorphan to a customer under 18 years old. Before issuing dextromethorphan over the counter, a business must require identification verifying the customer is at least 18 years old unless it can be reasonably presumed from the customer’s outward appearance that the customer is at least 27 years old.
The new law specifies that it does not require businesses to maintain transaction records or store dextromethorphan in a specific location. It also does not apply to the sale of any product dispensed by a pharmacist according to a prescription issued by a practitioner for a valid medical purpose.
Under the new law, a county or district attorney must issue a warning to a business for a first violation. After a warning, a business is liable to the state for a civil penalty of $150 for the second violation and $250 for each subsequent violation. It is a defense in an action brought under the law that the business made a good faith effort to comply with the law and that the customer presented an apparently valid proof of identification.
Texas joins 18 other states, including California, Florida, and New York, that have passed laws prohibiting the sale of dextromethorphan to minors. Supporters of such legislation say it strengthens the connection between pharmacies and their surrounding communities and increases awareness, particularly among the teen population, of the risks of consuming dextromethorphan in large doses. Supporters also note that minors will still be able to buy medicine to treat a cough or cold that does not contain dextromethorphan.
The U.S. House of Representatives in January 2019 introduced H.R. 863, the Dextromethorphan Abuse Prevention Act, which would establish a national minimum age requirement of 18 to buy over-the-counter cough medicine containing dextromethorphan. H.R. 863 was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce but has not been heard in committee.
By Alison Hern