New Jersey Prep Schoolers Bought Drugs on Internet

New Jersey Prep Schoolers Bought Drugs on Internet
Posted by FoM on May 26, 2000 at 06:38:47 PT
By Andrew Jacobs
Source: New York Times
With its lushly manicured campus, private lake and neo-colonial buildings, the Peddie School provides its 500 students with a sheltered oasis seemingly far from the lures and perils of the outside world. Supervision is intense, and the use of drugs and alcohol is strictly forbidden. 
But the four 17-year-olds who were rushed to a hospital emergency room on Tuesday night after the authorities found them nearly unconscious did not have to leave their dorm rooms to purchase their highs. The students, the police and school officials said, overdosed on a substance they bought on the Internet, a technically legal narcotic known as dextromethorpan, or DXM, the active ingredient in over-the-counter cough suppressants that can cause euphoria and mild hallucinations. The four students, all of them juniors, were released from the hospital Wednesday and are expected to recover. The incident has opened a door on what drug counselors and law enforcement officials say are two growing problems: the increasing popularity of DXM among teenagers, and the murky world of Internet drug sales. Because it is not an illegal substance, Federal drug officials do not keep statistics on DXM abuse. But several poison control centers said they have seen a marked increase of DXM overdoses in recent years. Bruce Rock, a clinical pharmacist at the New Jersey Poison Control Center, could not provide any figures but said reports of DXM use had spiked up in the last year. Dr. Karen Simone, hot line manager at the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center, said the agency handled 44 cases of DXM overdose between January and April, compared with a handful during the same period last year. Widespread availability, substance abuse experts say, makes DXM the default drug of choice for teenagers as young as 13. "It's not the most sophisticated drug, but if you don't have access to alcohol or a designer drug, DXM is pretty easy to get," said Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin who studies substance abuse by youth. "All you have to do is go into your parents' medicine cabinet, and it's there." As the active ingredient in products like Robitussin, Vicks and Nyquil, DXM is harmless if taken in small quantities. But if taken in large doses, it can cause vomiting, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and unconsciousness. In extreme cases, it can lead to death. When police officers arrived at the Peddie School infirmary on Tuesday evening, they found one student unresponsive, his face flush and his pupils dilated, said Sgt. Rich Warshany of the Hightstown Police Department. Shortly afterward, he said, the officers found two young women off campus and another in a dorm room, their conditions nearly identical to that of the young man. All four were taken to Princeton Medical Center and released after a night of observation, a hospital spokeswoman said. The episode has jolted parents, students and teachers at what is one of the state's most prestigious private schools. Administrators held an assembly on Thursday to remind the students of the school's zero-tolerance drug policy. Samuel C. Tattersall, the dean of students, said that in most cases, drug or alcohol use would result in dismissal. He said the four students would face disciplinary hearings and possible expulsion. While the use of dextromethorpan is not illegal, the Food and Drug Administration prohibits its sale for any use other than as a cough suppressant, and the pure form of the drug cannot be bought over the counter. Thomas McGinniss, the agency's director of pharmacy affairs, said the Internet sale of such drugs has skyrocketed in recent years. "As soon as we close down a Web site, another one pops up," he said. School officials said the youths bought the packet of DXM on eBay, the popular auction site. As of this evening, the substance was still being offered by two sellers. One of them, a man from Amherst, Mass., was offering 20 grams for $49. A spokesman for eBay said tonight that the items would be removed immediately. Students at the 280-acre school said they were saddened by the overdoses, but not surprised. Faith MacKenzie, a 17-year-old junior who is a friend of the four students, defended her classmates, saying they were led astray by the easy availability of the drug and the hunger for new experiences. "It has to do with the fact that it is here, that it's readily accessible, and the fact that people are bored," she said. "Anyone could have gotten it. A lot of people did. These are the people taking the rap for it." Hightown, N. J. May 25thPublished: May 26, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company CannabisNews View Next 20 Articles & Cannabis & Drug Policy Information:
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