A concoction called sizzurp has been gaining popularity among teens. It is a mix of prescription cough syrup with soda and hard candies like Jolly Rancher. Often consumed from Styrofoam cups, the drink gets its alternate name, “purple drank,” from the cough medicine’s purple food coloring.
Sizzurp originated in Houston in the 1960s. Now, online videos showcase teens drinking it and displaying bizarre mannerisms and behavior. Several hip-hop acts, like Lil Wayne, glorify purple drank in lyrics. One, Pimp C, died from an overdose.
Sizzurp sits on the tongue and lasts for many hours. The hard candies and soda temper the sour, medicinal taste of the cough preparation that gives the drink its kick. The prescription cough medicine contains codeine (a narcotic) and promethazine (an antihistamine). Codeine gives a sense of euphoria while promethazine depresses the central nervous system, which causes slow speech and drowsiness and impairs judgment and coordination.
Because the soda and candies mask the taste of the medicine, sizzurp drinkers often can’t tell exactly how much they are consuming. Overdose can result, causing depression of breathing and the central nervous system in escalating doses. This can lead to seizures, cardiac arrest and death in severe cases.
Sizzurp’s narcotic content makes it quite addictive. Frequent consumers who scale back their use may experience withdrawal symptoms like abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (mimicking gastroenteritis).
Teens who abuse sizzurp often intensify its effects by consuming alcohol and other drugs. This makes the drug much more dangerous as the users combine consume sizzurp along with varying amounts of alcohol and even cocaine or methamphetamine.
Avoid Potential Sizzurp Use
Parents need to have a discussion with their teens about the serious consequences of abusing this prescription drug which they may have in medicine cabinets or can be found on the street–where it may be further adulterated.
In addition, pediatricians may want to discuss any history of substance abuse or potential for such behaviors with parents before writing prescriptions for this medication, and truly evaluate whether an individual needs this medication. Alternative over-the-counter (OTC) or even natural remedies (regular honey added to hot tea) may be offered in place of this prescription cough preparation.
Parents should also know that Dextromethophan, contained in some OTC cough preparations, may also be abused, leading to hallucinations and confusion when taken in large amounts. Guaifenisen is a safer alternative among OTC preparations, with low potential for sedation or abuse.