Cough pills Recotus is currently not a prescribed medicine and thus available to anyone at a drugstore. Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach
Despite hospitalizations associated with a cough drug in previous years, teenagers in Ho Chi Minh City are readopting it as a "brain tonic," prompting doctors to issue warnings about its deadly, addictive effects.
Early this month, teachers from a secondary school in the city said a group of seven graders were given some tablets with the brand name Recotus. The tablets were given outside the school campus by some dropouts, the teachers said.
Le Ngoc Hai, principal of the Tang Bat Ho A school, said the school was informed of this "gift" by the students' parents and have seized the drug from their bags.
Parents from Lu Gia and Le Quy Don secondary schools also reported recently that their children were consuming four or five of these tablets at a time, with each one costing as little as VND1,000, or less than 5 cents.
Groups of teenage school students in the city were rushed to hospitals late last year, and in a similar case the year before, after they consumed the tablets and passed out during classes.
Hai said the students were told that the drug would make them feel "excited" and unafraid of taking exams, not to mention unafraid of teachers and parents in general.
Experts said that is the hallucination effect of the drug which can work like an addictive substance.
Recotus is designed to ease coughing and respiratory inflammation. It can make people drowsy and is not recommended for children below 6 years old or people with liver conditions or asthma.
Doctor Le Thien Anh Tuan of the Ho Chi Minh City Pharmaceutics Association said healthy people having this medicine can have "very dangerous" effects.
"Every pharmaceutical ingredient has its side effects and overdoses of Recotus can lead to poisoning with symptoms like nausea, weakened eyesight, respiratory decline, seizures and even death," Tuan said.
Recotus mainly contains the cough suppressant dextromethorphan and respiratory muscle relaxant diprophyllin.
The doctor said dextromethorphan is less addictive than heroin, morphine, or ecstasy, but one can still become dependent on it after using it for a long time.
Recommended therapeutic doses for adults, those above 12 years old, are one tablet at a time and a maximum of four a day, for no more than seven days.
Studies have found that dosages 12.5 to 75 times higher can cause blurred, double vision or even sight loss, dilated pupils, hypotension or hypertension, shallow respiration, diarrhea, urinary retention, muscle contraction, hallucinations, euphoria, and blackouts.
Diprophyllin, meanwhile, directly affects the cardiac system as it widens blood vessels and thus can cause heart beat disorder as also hypertension.
Tuan said the overdose effects cause one to lose control over their emotions, which can be mistaken for "confidence" or even "sudden smartness."
A secondary school teacher in the city said many users of the medicine are average performers and below.
They can avoid sitting in classes or reviews of previous lessons, as they look sleepy and fatigued after using the drug, and teachers would send them to the medical room, she said.
Recotus is currently not a prescribed medicine and thus available to anyone at a drugstore.
The medicine made headlines last October when a 26-year-old drug addict killed one person and injured 19 others in a knife-slashing spree one day after he swallowed 24 Recotus tablets.
Several parents have admitted they bought the drug for their children after being told that it improves the latter's memory without side effects. It was only when they watched their children were not being themselves that the parents realized their mistake.
Tuan said parents should help their children through nutrition, exercises and a proper timetable.
He said no kind of mental stimulant advertised in the market works as it is said to, and mental disorders are a different case for which children need prescription drugs.
Doctor Nguyen Huu Duc with the Ho Chi Minh City Medicine University was quoted in a Tuoi Tre report as saying over the counter drugs like Recotus pose a huge danger to young people.
Duc said that Recotus is, in a sense, more dangerous than heroin, as it is not a banned substance in Vietnam.
Too much dependence on Recotus will eventually lead the children to seek more addictive drugs, the doctor said.
He said parents and teachers should pay better attention to their children, and pharmacies should adopt stricter policies on serving young customers.
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