Man Blames OTC Drug, Coricidin, For Killing Wife. Does He Have a Case?

Proactive Health

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

A tragic incident took place last Friday when Matthew Phelps, 29, allegedly stabbed his wife to death after taking too much cold medicine.

At about 1 a.m. that Friday, Phelps called 911 and told the officer that he had a dream, turned on the lights and found his wife’s body with multiple stab wounds.

“I have blood all over me, and there's a bloody knife on the bed. And I think I did it,” Phelps added.

Phelps was studying to become a pastor. His wife, Lauren Ashley-Nicole Phelps, 29, was a Sunday school teacher. 

During his 911 call, Phelps blamed what had occurred due to the result of him taking too much cold medicine.

“I took more medicine than I should have,” he said. “I took Coricidin cough and cold, because I know it can make you feel good. A lot of times I can't sleep at night. So, I took some.”

If Phelps is convicted, he may get the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.

So could Coricidin really lead to violence and murderous intentions? And if so, what are the ingredients present in Coricidin that we should be watching out for?

What is Coricidin?

Coricidin is marketed as an over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medicine that offers relief for people with high blood pressure (HBP). Coricidin (HBP) products are all decongestant-free, reportedly making them reasonably safe and effective for the flu and cough…or are they?

Apparently, most OTC drugs are not reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Coricidin has reportedly not been evaluated by the FDA.

What are the side effects?

After Phelps blamed the Coricidin for his wife’s death, various news outlets have been exploring the possible dangerous side effects.

Inside Edition asked Dr. Roshini Raj about what may happen when you take too much Coricidin.

"This medicine does contain ingredients that could potentially cause delusions, hallucinations, agitation, euphoria, or even psychosis," she said.

One of the ingredients that Dr. Raj could be referring to is dextromethorphan, which according to Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic, can “produce euphoria and dissociative effects or even hallucinations when taken in quantities greater than the recommended therapeutic dose.”

Coricidin also has chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine that is commonly used for relieving symptoms of the common cold, allergies and other illnesses. When taken in large amounts, the drug may become a health hazard that can cause hallucinations.

When dextromethorphan and chlorpheniramine are combined and taken in higher doses, they are capable of inducing a specific toxidrome that includes various psychiatric sequela like:

  • Euphoria
  • Agitation
  • Psychoses
  • Dissociative Phenomena
  • Dependence

Abusing medicine like Coricidin can be dangerous. In fact, there have been a number of cases that suggest dextromethorphan intoxication may lead to assault, homicide and even suicide.

During his 911 call, Phelps confessed that he took Coricidin because he was having trouble sleeping and that he knew “it could make you feel good.” This could suggest that Phelps may have taken the medicine for recreational use. Recreational use of this drug has been reported to  lead to mania and hallucinations.

Back in 2012, The American Academy of Forensic Sciences reported that, “dextromethorphan should be considered as a potential causative agent in subjects presenting with mania, psychosis, or hallucinations, and abusers are at risk for violent and self-destructive acts.”

So how can you be proactive?

Educate yourself about drug abuse. The abuse of drugs like Coricidin and other OTC drugs (over-the-counter) is fairly prevalent. Like Coricidin, most similar OTC products contain dextromethorphan (DXM). Because the side effects of this drug can cause euphoria and hallucinations, it’s very common for cough medicine to be abused.

What’s even more alarming is that OTC drug abuse is a problem among teens. The MetLife Foundation found that 1 out of 3 teenagers knows someone who has abused OTC cough medicine for recreational uses, like getting high.

Coricidin (HBP) is similar to the OTC drug called Robitussin. Both have street nicknames (mainly due to the effects of dextromethorphan) which are:

  • Red Devils
  • Robo
  • Triple C
  • Skittles
  • Poor Man’s PCP

Street terms for recreational use are called “robo-tripping” or “skittling.”

People take Coricidin and other OTC drugs for different reasons. While using this medicine to get high and other recreational uses are an unfortunate possibility, there are those who really are trying to get rid of a cold; or trying to get a good night sleep – or even in Matthew Phelps’ case – trying to “feel good.”

The good news is that there are safer alternatives to these OTC drugs if you want to get better sleep, a natural high or to feel good. And we have previously discussed how certain habits and various nutrients such as magnesium, iron, vitamin d and calcium may lead to better sleep and boost your energy.                                    

Side effects from OTC drugs like violent hallucinations can be tough to combat, especially when it has never happened to you before. However, by educating yourselves about medications like Coricidin and other OTC drugs, you may be able to prevent incidents like these and potentially save lives.

Enjoy your healthy life!                                                              

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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