Background: Serious drug abuse and addiction related to dextromethorphan-containing cough preparations has been a problem in the United States since the 1950s, but few physicians are aware of it. Physicians must be alert to the type of substances and quantities used and misused by patients in obtaining a thorough routine history of over-the-counter medication use.
Methods: We describe the case of a 66-year-old clerical worker who ingested 4 to 16 oz of dextromethorphan on a regular basis over an 8-year period. We consulted with our local Poison Control Center and undertook a literature search to research previous reports of similar cases to identify the features that would aid physicians in recognition and management of this problem.
Results and conclusion: Despite the availability of a substantial number of case reports in specialty journals, there are almost no reports in the primary care literature of chronic dextromethorphan addiction. Our case highlights the difficulties in making an appropriate diagnosis and in obtaining effective help for the patient.