A young man studying to be a pastor called 911 in the early hours of Labor Day weekend claiming he stabbed his wife of five months while asleep, blaming the incident on a higher than indicated dose of over-the-counter Coricidin Cold & Cough medicine.
“I know it can make you feel good and sometimes I can’t sleep at night,” Matthew James Phelps told the 911 dispatcher.
Phelps, 29, says he woke from a dream and turned on the lights of his bedroom only to find his wife, Lauren Ashley-Nicole Phelps, also 29, stabbed and unresponsive in their Raleigh, North Carolina townhouse. “There’s blood all over me, and there’s a bloody knife on the bed. I think I did it,” Phelps told the dispatcher.
The medicine Phelps claims to have taken, Coricidin Cough & Cold, is cold symptom relief specially formulated for people with high blood pressure. It contains 4mg of the antihistamine chlorpheniramine and 30 mg of the cough suppressant dextromethorphan hydrobromide.
Being easily angered or annoyed and nightmares are listed among the rare and less common Coricidin side effects. Hallucinations are listed among the rare but severe side effects with the medication.
But at higher doses, “typically as a result of recreational abuse, dextromethoprphan and chlorpheniramine are capable of inducing a specific toxidrome that includes various psychiatric sequelae such as euphoria, agitation, psychosis, dissociative phenomena, and, rarely, dependence,” according to a study published in The Primary Care Companion.
Strange psychiatric responses to medication are not unusual. For example, the sleep aid Ambien, which contains the drug zolpidem, has been blamed in several brutal murders committed against loved ones. The drug has been known in extreme cases at recommended doses to cause people to get out of bed and do things while still effectively asleep. Things they scarcely remember. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since lowered the dosage of Ambien, particularly for women because women metabolize the drug slower than men. The agency also warned that the drug may cause next-day impairment of driving and other activities that require full alertness.
The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders