Sizzurp — it sounds a lot like the name for a type of candy or fizzy beverage. But it’s actually one of the frequently used names for a popular and potentially addictive codeine concoction. Also often referred to as “Purple Drank,” the fun and tasty party beverage is causing growing concern among parents, medical professionals, and drug addiction specialists. Not only is it potentially addictive; it can also be downright deadly — just ask the mother of Pauviera Linson, who in August 2012:
According to news reports, 14-year-old Linson of St. Paul, Minnesota, was given Purple Drank by adult male acquaintances at a birthday party. In addition to the beverage, Linson and her friend were also given marijuana. This took place on a Sunday. The following Monday morning, her already cold and lifeless body was discovered on a bed by her 18-year-old cousin. Unresponsive to her friend’s CPR attempts, she was pronounced dead just a short while later. Her 17-year-old friend, who was vomiting, was hospitalized and later released. Two men were later arrested in connection with the incident.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that teen idol Justin Bieber happens to really like Sizzurp as well. In fact, he may even be addicted to it – literally. Numerous news reports in the past couple of months have stated that the popular singer consumes the sweet party drink on a regular basis. Not only that, reports indicate that those close to him believe that at least some of his erratic behavior of late can be attributed directly to the narcotic beverage. His handlers have reportedly been trying to get him to seek drug rehab treatment.
Justin Bieber isn’t the only celebrity who’s brought Purple Drank into the spotlight in recent years. In March of 2013, rapper Lil Wayne reportedly suffered from seizures related to his affection for codeine. Prior to being hospitalized, the star had been quite outspoken about how much he liked Purple Drank. Since his hospitalization, however, he’s taken the opposite stance, warning others about the dangers of drinking it.
Purple Drank has been implicated in the deaths of two other celebrities — rappers D.J. Screw and Pimp C. Their deaths occurred in 2000 and 2007, respectively.
Unfortunately, celebrities like Justin Bieber are highly influential. Their young fans will often go to great links to imitate their behavior, whether good or bad. If “The Biebs” likes Sizzurp, that’s good enough for them — regardless of the potential consequences.
Despite these more recent reports, Purple Drank has actually been around for a long time, with its popularity ebbing and flowing. It originated in Houston, Texas in the1960s. Upsurges in the cocktail’s popularity have no doubt been influenced – at least to some degree – by music videos and song lyrics that have romanticized it over the years.
What exactly is sizzurp?
The candy-flavored beverage is typically made by mixing prescription strength cough syrup, Jolly Ranchers or a similar type of candy, and a clear, non-cola soda like Mountain Dew or Sprite. The candy makes the drink sweet and colorful (hence the name “Purple Drank”). The soda gives it fizz and flavor, while the rapid, pleasurable high comes primarily from the codeine in the cough syrup. Another drug in the cough syrup — promethazine — has a sedating effect. This euphoric and sedating combination is sometimes referred to as a “swooning euphoria.”
One of the things that makes Sizzurp so potentially dangerous is the simple fact that it tastes good. After all, it’s made with candy and soda – two sweet treats that are especially appealing (and familiar) to teens. Unfortunately, that makes it all too easy to drink a lot of it without even realizing how much they’ve consumed. It also makes it easy to become addicted to the concoction. On top of that, because of the way it’s made — cough syrup, soda, and candy — it can fool naïve users into thinking it’s essentially harmless — or at the very least, much less dangerous than most other substances.
In addition to the names Purple Drank and Sizzurp, the sugary beverage is also sometimes called “syrup” (for obvious reasons), “dirty Sprite” and “lean.” The latter stems from the fact that people who drink it tend to lean over, a side effect of the drugs it contains.
Drugs in sizzurp
Following is a closer look at promethazine and codeine, the two drugs in Sizzurp:
Promethazine belongs to the class of drugs known as phenothiazines. Other drugs in this category include two of the older antipsychotics, Thorazine and Stelazine, used to treat schizophrenia. Promethazine, however, has been used over the years to treat various conditions due to its anti-histamine, sedative, and anti-nausea properties. It’s been used to treat various types of allergic reactions, as well as motion sickness and nausea and vomiting unrelated to motion. Since it can make people quite drowsy, it’s also often used in various situations (e.g. pre- and post- surgery, labor, etc.) where patients need to be relaxed or sedated. It’s not used as an antipsychotic drug.
Promethazine, like all medications, should be used with caution. Potential side effects of the drug include dizziness, blurred vision, constipation, and dry mouth. It can also cause breathing to slow down or even cease, which is especially dangerous. It’s not recommended for babies or children under the age of 2, and caution should always be used when given to older children as well.
Products that contain both codeine and promethazine (which are used in Sizzurp) should not be given to children under 16 years of age. Considering the drink is particularly popular with teens, this warning is particularly concerning.
Codeine is an opioid drug used to treat mild to moderate pain. It’s also beneficial as a cough suppressant, which is why it is often used in cough syrup. In the body, it works as a central nervous system depressant.
Potential side effects of codeine include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, mood changes, decreased heart rate, and weakness. Large doses can be very dangerous and potentially fatal.
Like other opioids, codeine can target the pleasure centers of the brain, which is why users may experience a euphoric effect from the drug. Like promethazine, though, it can also slow breathing and cause drowsiness.
Combining these two drugs (as is the case with Sizzurp) can intensify some of the potential side effects of each drug. In higher doses, a variety of negative and potentially dangerous effects can occur from this sweet poison, including:
- Impaired vision/constricted pupils
- Slow, slurred speech
- Raspy voice
- Impaired coordination
- Balance problems
- Involuntary eye movement
- Altered or impaired thinking
- Memory loss
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Death (often due to the heart and/or respiration stopping altogether)
It’s not uncommon for teens to use Sizzurp along with alcohol, prescription medications, or other street drugs. This makes the candy-enhanced syrupy drink even more dangerous than ever, especially if the other substances are also CNS depressants. For example, combining Sizzurp with a potent and fast-acting benzodiazepine (also a depressant), such as Xanax, can be extremely dangerous. Other especially dangerous combinations include alcohol or Ecstasy.
Some Sizzurp drinkers will use hydrocodone instead of codeine. Hydrocodone is actually a derivative of codeine, but it is several times more potent. Using hydrocodone in the beverage also makes the effects – and the risks – that much greater.
Potential for addiction
Another danger of Sizzurp is the potential for addiction with ongoing use. This is primarily due to the fact that it contains an opiate drug. The combination of feeling euphoric while extremely relaxed makes the drink an easy way to escape painful emotions and stress – at least temporarily. For vulnerable teens who have yet to learn healthy coping skills, substances like Sizzurp can provide relief from the challenges and pressures they face in our fast-paced society.
Withdrawal and treatment
Opiate addiction is not something that can be overcome easily or “cold turkey.” If an addiction to the codeine in Sizzurp has developed, withdrawal symptoms will typically develop with 12 to 24 hours after the last use. Withdrawal from codeine is similar to that of other narcotics, like Vicodin and heroin. Symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- Flu-like symptoms (e.g. stomach cramps, chills, sweating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, pain, muscle cramps)
- Depressed mood
- Elevated heart rate
- Low appetite
Typically, codeine withdrawal symptoms will be the most intense between 48 and 72 hours. They will then usually start to slowly subside over the following several days.
It’s always recommended that detoxing from drugs like codeine should take place in a medically supervised facility. Trained medical staff can help ease the process — often with the use of appropriate medications — while monitoring patients closely. Since patients won’t have access to drugs while detoxing, they won’t be able to use in an attempt to satisfy cravings and alleviate unpleasant withdrawals symptoms.
Detoxing is just the first step in treating an addiction to substances like sizzurp. The next step is drug addiction treatment, which may occur in a residential or inpatient setting, or on an outpatient basis, depending on the patient’s needs and other factors.
It’s heartbreaking when precious young teens like Pauviera Linson have their life senselessly cut short by a seemingly innocent, yet potentially deadly, substance like Sizzurp. Many teens who start using the syrupy drink are deceived by the sweet taste of soda and candy, as well as the notion that cough syrup is a pretty harmless substance — if they’re even aware that it’s in there. But that first sip can quickly lead to ongoing abuse, addiction, and — in the most tragic cases — death.
If you’re a parent, educate yourself about Sizzurp (Purple Drank) and similar substances that are especially popular with kids. Talk to your teens (and your preteens) about it and drugs in general. Keeping the lines of communication and letting them know that you’re always there for them — to talk, listen, offer support, and ask questions — may help at least reduce the chance of your child’s life being damaged or cut short by such a potentially deadly substance.