New law cracks down on ‘robotripping’

California on New Year’s Day becomes the first state to bar the sale of over-the-counter cold and cough medications containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to minors.

Senate Bill 514 by state Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, requires store clerks to check ID so no one under 18 buys these medications, which cause a potentially life-threatening high when consumed in high doses. A violation of the new law will be an infraction, punishable only by a fine; the law provides an exception for sale to minors with a prescription.

The Senate approved the bill 38-0 in May and the Assembly approved it 49-23 in August; Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law later that month.

DXM is known by the street names robo, skittles, Triple C, Vitamin C, dex, red paint, and tussin. Because abusers commonly use Robitussin to get high, the act of abusing is often called “robotripping” or “robodosing.”

Taken in high doses, DXM causes intoxication, hallucinations, seizures, loss of motor control, and “out of body” sensations similar to PCP and LSD. Simitian’s office says that, according to WebMD and the Consumer Healthcare Productions Association, one in 10 teenagers say they’ve used DXM to get high, making it more popular than LSD, cocaine, ecstasy or meth. The California Poison Control System reports that DXM abuse calls for children under age 17 have increased 850 percent in the past decade, making DXM abuse the most commonly reported type of abuse in this age group.

Seizures and liver failure can occur from drinking just one package of over-the-counter cough medication, and DXM becomes more dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

Joe Simitian“Until now, these drugs have been easy for young people to obtain,” Simitian said in a news release. “By putting age limitations on these drugs, we’re communicating to kids and their parents that, when used inappropriately, these are dangerous drugs with serious consequences.”

The idea from the law was a winner from Simitian’s 2004 “There Oughta Be a Law” contest, submitted by Wayne Benitez and Ron Lawrence, both with the Palo Alto Police Department at the time; Lawrence is now the Rocklin’s police chief. A similar bill had died in 2004. “Today the extent and seriousness of the problem is better understood,” Simitian said.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    I’m reminded of something Jerry Brown said a couple of months ago:

    “I have 600 bills on my desk. There are not 600 problems in search of a solution.”

  • Truthclubber

    Why would anyone want to rip a robot, and why do we need to outlaw such a practice?

  • Reilleyfam

    Do you really think that for the type of people who do this any law is going to deter them? Do they think clerks are knowingly selling to recreational users? NOT.

    If you need to told not to do this, you deserve the consequences.

  • Bill Orton

    Thank HEAVEN this bill has become law! Numerous schoolmates and friends of my daughter, several years back, experimented with over-the-counter cold medicines that they called “triple C” and “skittles.” Two addictions, one overdose and numerous horrible nights trying to figure out what was going wrong, it seemed to pass and later my daughter explained who had been using what. Thank you, Senator. A great many California parents have reason to thank you, even if their kids are willing to share all their secrets.