Coricidin Side Effects: Can Popular Cough And Cold Medication Cause Violence In Users?

Is violence one of Coricidin’s possible side effects? That’s the question many are wondering about, following the recent case of North Carolina man Matthew Phelps, who allegedly murdered his wife Lauren after taking too much of the cold medication. While the over-the-counter drug’s maker has gone on record to maintain that it’s safe to use, some experts have warned that Coricidin’s active agent could potentially induce hallucinations or even worse side effects.

As previously reported by NBC News, Matthew Phelps is facing the death penalty after being charged with the murder of his wife, Lauren Hugelmaier Phelps. Matthew, 28, reportedly told a 911 dispatcher in the early morning of September 1 that he had taken more Coricidin than he should have, which caused him to have a “dream” and wake up to see blood all over him, and his wife dead on the floor.

The unusual circumstances behind Matthew Phelps’ case have made it one of America’s top headlines of the week. And while drug maker Bayer issued a statement reassuring people that Coricidin’s side effects do not include violent behavior, medical experts have warned that it may not be Coricidin itself, but an active ingredient found in several other brands of cold medication, that could lead to adverse effects.

The News & Observer quoted University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy professor Stefanie Ferreri, who noted that the cough suppressant Dextromethorphan (DXM) can cause closed-eye hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and in some cases, temporary psychosis. This agent can also be found in Coricidin, Robitussin, NyQuil, and other cold medications, and Ferreri added that DXM’s risk factor has led to some concerns regarding its safety.

“The Food and Drug Administration has been considering if it should go behind the counter like they have done with other medications that contain pseudoephedrine,” she explained.

Ferreri also told The News & Observer that cough and cold medications such as Coricidin are typically abused by individuals, especially teenagers, who have given the drugs a variety of street names. Coricidin, for instance, is known on the street as “Triple C” or “Skittles,” while people who abuse Robitussin call the highs produced by its intake as “robotrips.”

A special report from People documented in 2004 the aforementioned trend of young people abusing over-the-counter medications with DXM, relating the stories of three students ranging in age from 14 to 22 who died after “dexing,” or abusing DXM to get high. In particular, the 14-year-old boy featured in People’s report had died while high on Coricidin, having been struck by two cars when he left a party to buy more pills.

It’s one thing to talk about abusing over-the-counter drugs, but what about ordinary people with seemingly legitimate reasons to take these forms of cough and cold medication? Although he wasn’t talking specifically about Coricidin having side effects, an Evanston, Illinois man claims that he did experience something similar to what Matthew Phelps said he experienced after taking too much cold medication.

In a phone interview with The News & Observer, 68-year-old retired businessman James Johnston said that the incident happened about three decades ago, when he came close to choking his wife to death after taking a similar cold and flu medication, NyQuil, at bedtime.

“I had her in a head lock. I was really trying to choke her. She was screaming and hollering.”

Johnston also related a separate story where he dreamed he was fighting another person while supposedly under the influence of NyQuil.

“I would raise my leg as high as I could to kick somebody, but I was kicking the bed. We realized it was the NyQuil. I have never taken it again, and I have never had a problem since.”

Although the Matthew Phelps case has resulted in some negative press for Coricidin, the side effects of other cough and cold drugs were cited in a few other high-profile cases from the recent past. For example, the Associated Press reported last year on the case of Dr. Louis Chen, a Seattle doctor who was sentenced to 49 years in prison for the 2011 murders that took the lives of his partner and their toddler son. Chen’s defense lawyers had maintained that their client couldn’t tell right from wrong due to “mental illness, self-medicating, and a cough syrup-induced psychosis.”

[Featured Image by Ben Margot/AP Images]