FDA panel nixes restrictions on cough meds

Over-the-counter cough medicines should stay over-the-counter, an FDA panel advised in a 15-9 vote. The advisory committee had considered restrictions on the drugs--which contain dextromethorphan--because they are often abused by teenagers. Of course, if the products had been classified as controlled substances, as the Drug Enforcement Agency had advocated, they'd not only be harder to get for teenagers, but for the rest of customers, too.

Dextromethorphan is an ingredient in about 125 cough and cold products, the FDA says, including Pfizer's Robitussin products, Procter & Gamble's Vicks NyQuil Cough and Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol Cough. In a recent study, 4 percent of eighth-graders and 6 percent of 10th graders said they'd used the drugs to get high within the past year, Bloomberg reports. DEA had wanted the FDA to recommend classifying dextromethorphan as a Schedule 5 controlled substance.

The agency doesn't always follow its advisory committees' advice, but it usually does. In this case, the committee seemed to think that making the drug a controlled substance would be overkill. "There's a low level of abuse, and I think we need to have a scalpel to address the problem, not a big hammer," committee member Warren Bickel tells Bloomberg.

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