Students Get High on Cough Medicine in Burma

By Salai Thant Zin 26 August 2014

In the poppy fields of Burma’s hinterlands, farmers are growing the world’s second-biggest source of opium, and just this week police officials boasted of their biggest-ever drug bust, but in some cities, the problem of substance abuse lies closer to home.

For a cheap, easy high, some students in Pathein Township, Irrawaddy Division, are turning to a popular cough medicine, police officials say.

This month, township police warned shops near urban schools not to sell tablets of Dextro Cough, which contains the active ingredient dextromethorphan and is often stocked at shops that specialize in betel nut, a popular stimulant. A 14-day warning period went into effect on Aug. 14, after which the police have pledged to act in accordance with the national drug law against any betel nut shop found to be selling the cough medicine.

Urban chemists have also been warned not to give Dextro to students.

“A small proportion of university students abuse it. Mainly, high school students abuse it, as do some students at the government technical college,” Myint Aung, platoon commander of the Pathein-based No. 49 anti-drug squad, told The Irrawaddy. “It’s a flu and cough medicine. Youths take many tablets at once, which is harmful to them.”

Imported from Thailand, Dextro is reportedly a registered household drug in Burma. A bottle containing 1,000 tablets costs 15,000 kyats (US$15), while individual tablets sell for 25 kyats at betel shops, kiosks and some chemist shops in urban wards.

“Dextro makes the abuser sleepy and tranquil. Not only university students, but also youths in the wards, abuse it,” said a 21-year-old from Pathein’s Ward No. 9. “They use it during festive events. Recently, I went back to my native village to visit a pagoda festival and found that youths were abusing that drug.”

In addition to use for the common cold, the cough suppressant is often prescribed to ease symptoms of serious illnesses including tuberculosis, HIV, pneumonia and lung cancer, according to a general practitioner in Pathein.

“Dextro stabilizes lungs and dissolves phlegm, and only one or two tablet should be given to TB, lung cancer and HIV patients, even under a doctor’s prescription. If children take more than 10 tablets at one time, it may harm their nerves and lungs in the long run,” he said.