Kids are finding new and more creative ways to get high these days. There has been a growing trend of drug abuse using concoctions made from everyday items found in refrigerators and household medicine cabinets.
Cough syrup is the primary ingredient and is an increasingly common substance of abuse among younger populations – either dextromethorphan, found in over-the-counter cough medicine or codeine, which is available by prescription only.
In a 2006 survey, 3.6 percent of 8th graders admitted to abusing cough medicine. High schoolers had even higher percentages – 5.3 percent among 10th graders and 5.5 percent of 12th graders.
As with many drug abusers, these children are only obsessed with the highs and are unaware of the dangers of abusing something as seemingly common as cough syrup.
Codeine’s appropriate use is to treat pain. It is an opioid, in the same class of drugs as Percocet, morphine and heroin, which – in addition to pain relief – all work on the part of the brain that experiences pleasure. The side effects include drowsiness, nausea, confusion and the worst complication, difficulty breathing properly.
Dextromethorphan, or “DXM,” on the other hand, is found in common cough medicines such as Robitussin DM, Triaminic or Coricidin Cough and Cold (“triple C”). Other street names for dextromethorphan include “skittles,” “Robo,” and “dex.” Similar to codeine, the medication can also cause drowsiness and stop a person’s ability to breathe. In addition, vision changes, hallucinations, and other bizarre behavior may also occur.
Both drugs can be ingested in pill form, powder or liquid. The medication can be taken alone or mixed into sweet drinks. When the cough syrups are added to soda or juice, the resulting mixtures are referred to colloquially as “purple drank,” “lean,” “sizzurp,” “syrup,” “purple bar,” or “purple punch.” The mixtures can also include an alcohol of choice, a prescription antihistamine called promethazine, or a few hard candies for taste and color.
While the drinks were initially more common throughout the south, the rap group, Three 6 Mafia put them on the map when the group released “Sippin’ on Some Syrup” back in 2000. Frayser Boy, Lil’ Wayne and DJ Screw also popularized the drinks in their lyrics. Tragically, DJ Screw reportedly died of a heart attack related to an overdose from a mixture of drugs – one of them being codeine. An overdose of codeine also took the life of rapper Pimp C of the group, UGK.
“It’s considered by a lot of people as being normal. If you see somebody smoking crack, what’s wrong with this guy? If you see someone with a cup of bar, a cup of lean, that’s a player doing his thing,” said Dr. Ron Peters, Associate Professor at University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston on ESPN’s Outside the Lines in June of this year.
Cough syrup abuse has also made its way into professional sports. Earlier this month, ex-Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was charged with possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. Other NFL athletes – Johnny Jolly, Shawne Williams, and Terrance Keil — have had similar legal woes related to codeine.
Young children who are either just experimenting or influenced by these music and sports icons are walking a dangerous line that can result in death if they are not careful. Parents can remain on the lookout for the side effects of such medications, particularly drowsiness – especially falling asleep in class – and bizarre, unexplained behavior. Parents should also keep cough medicines in a locked cabinet or a special place in the house inaccessible to younger children.
However, despite meticulous precautions, children may unfortunately still have access to these drugs and beverages through their peers.