Ten years of robotripping: evidence of tolerance to dextromethorphan hydrobromide in a long-term user uri icon


  • INTRODUCTION: Dextromethorphan hydrobromide is widely available as an over-the-counter cough suppressant. A semi-synthetic opioid displaying N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonism, it is commonly abused for recreational purposes. Spuriously elevated serum chloride concentrations are a well-described phenomenon in the setting of dextromethorphan hydrobromide toxicity, but evidence to suggest the development of tolerance is limited to case reports. CASE: A 32-year-old male known to chronically ingest dextromethorphan hydrobromide for recreational purposes presented to regional hospitals on 179 occasions over 110 months and was treated for dextromethorphan toxicity on 163/174 (93.7%) of these visits. He reported a subjective need to increase his dosing over time to achieve the same degree of intoxication. Measured serum chloride over this period (n = 217) ranged from 98 to 138 mEq/L (median 115 mEq/L, IQR 110-123 mEq/L). Measured concentrations over the 110-month period progressively rose, with a fitted plot of 111.15 + 0.00232x describing the rise in measured chloride. Though not formally assessed, anion gaps tended to become progressively more negative over the observed period. DISCUSSION: We report a patient with persistent dextromethorphan hydrobromide abuse at escalating doses whose mean serum chloride concentration increased, on average, by 0.00232 mEq/L every day over a 110-month period. This case demonstrates progressive spurious hyperchloremia secondary to bromide interference in hospital-based chloride assays, supporting the patient's reported need to dose escalate to the same desired effect. Although this artefactual laboratory finding is a well-documented result of bromide ingestion, it may be useful in identifying patterns of dextromethorphan hydrobromide use that suggest tolerance.

publication date

  • 2019