Apollonia Jordan, New America Media
LOS ANGELES - There is a new addiction going around among young people in inner-city communities. The latest trend is a legal but deadly cocktail, a mixture of Sprite and Promethazine/Codeine cough syrup.
The drug has been popularized by hip-hop artists, and has even spawned its own music style. But it’s also turning young people into zombies.
Sizzurp, Purple Sprite, lean, Bo, and Barre, are a few street names used to describe the concoction. Teens as young as 14 are experimenting with the drug, a legal prescription medicine used to treat severe cough and upper respiratory conditions caused by allergies or the common cold.
Rap artists like Gucci Mane make it seem cool to be on lean. Lil Wayne can be seen brandishing his styrofoam cup full of a purplish-colored drink in almost every photo in the media. This syrup-sippin’ epidemic has become popular among minority groups, and mixed with other drugs such as Ecstasy, alcohol, and marijuana, can be fatal, especially if they’re operating a motor vehicle.
They have even created a form of music, known as “chopped and screwed,” where the music is chopped down and played at a very slow speed for users of Promethazine/Codeine to enjoy while under the influence.
One 25-year-old who wanted to be identified by the alias Grape George, said he has tried the drink more than 20 times.
"I just do it cuz I like the feeling and it’s an escape from the harsh realities that I face day to day. Can’t find a job and I have to hustle. I’ve lost so many homies to these streets. I have to support myself and my lil' man. So I do it when I’m having a hard day or just want to delete the bad memories in my mind."
He says the syrup relaxes him and makes his mind process things at a slower rate than normal.
"Once I was leaning and my little cousin was talking and it seemed like she was talking in slow motion, like someone was pushing the pause and play button in my head. I then went home and played some music and the music was going in slow motion."
“I’m addicted and it makes me feel good,” said another 22-year-old man I interviewed who didn’t want his name to be published. When I asked him what the thrill of drinking syrup was, he leaned over in his seat, barely responsive for about 10 minutes, before slowly waking up and asking me to repeat the question.
According to the website www.drugs.com, Promethazine/Codeine Syrup may cause drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, or blurred vision. These effects may be worse if you take it with alcohol or certain medicines. They strongly suggest that the medicine be used with caution if combined with another prescription, such as asthma medication.
The website also warns that use of the drug can cause Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. Symptoms may include fever, stiff muscles, confusion, abnormal thinking; fast or irregular heartbeat and sweating.
Wikipedia users describe it as a “purple drank” and defines it as “a slang term for a recreational drug popular in the hip hop community, originating from Texas.” They also describe this drug with two other names that I was unfamiliar with: “Texas Tea” and “Purple Jelly.”
Rappers and inner-city youth aren’t the only ones experimenting with this deadly drink. On July 5, former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested at his home in Mobile, Ala., for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. He was arrested as part of an undercover narcotics investigation. Russell was booked into city jail and released soon afterwards after making his bail.
Several people informed me that they buy the drug from older adults who can get the prescription from their doctor. One bottle can have a street value price of anywhere from $75 to $150, which is a big profit margin in this economy for someone who may be receiving it for free.
Along with drinking out of a styrofoam cup, they find it amusing to enjoy the drink from a baby bottle, like a Gerber juice container.
Like any addiction, when used for long periods of time, syrup can build a tolerance in your body and cause you to become dependent. Many young people are already dependent on it and are evolving into syrup-junkies.
Some of the side effects and withdrawal symptoms of the drug include anxiety, diarrhea, fever; runny nose, sneezing, goose bumps, abnormal skin sensations (like crawling of the skin), and hallucinations, trouble sleeping and tremors.
Parents of teens are cautioned to look for these signs in their child if they are often tired for no reason. They may be a part of the syrup sippin’ generation.