House Committee Passes Dextromethorphan Distribution Act; DEA Reviewing for Possible Control

October 3, 2007

On September 27, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce passed H.R. 970, the Dextromethorphan Distribution Act of 2007, after a legislative “mark-up” session.  Similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate in May 2007 (S. 1378) and was referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, where it has remained dormant.  Now that the House Energy and Commerce has passed the bill, it will be scheduled for a vote by the full House.

H.R. 970, if enacted, would restrict the distribution and possession of raw dextromethorphan, an antitussive (i.e., cough-suppressant) drug found in many over-the-counter cold/cough drug products.  Specifically, the bill would restrict the distribution of unfinished dextromethorphan to anyone but FDA-registered drug manufacturers and the possession of unfinished dextromethorphan by anyone but registered drug manufacturers.  The bill defines the term “unfinished dextromethorphan” to mean “dextromethorphan that is not contained in a drug that is in finished dosage form.”

Dextromethorphan is not a federally-controlled substance, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) recently noted that the Agency is reviewing the drug for possible control (that is, “scheduling”) under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”).  DEA observes that the 2006 “Monitoring the Future Study” showed that in 2005, 4% to 7% of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders reported using dextromethorphan for non-medical use.  DEA further reports that a California Poison Control System study showed a 10-fold increase of dextromethorphan abuse by all age groups from 1999 to 2004, and a 15-fold increase of abuse by adolescents during the period.

Should DEA decide to schedule dextromethorphan as a controlled substance under the CSA, the Agency would most likely propose placement of the drug in Schedule IV or V (i.e., substances with a low potential for abuse and with a currently accepted medical use).

By Larry K. Houck