Purple Drank

Purple Drank

Purple Drank is the most popular name for a drink that combines prescription promethazine/codeine cough syrup with clear sodas such as 7-Up or Sprite, or with vodka or other clear liquors. Use of Purple Drank, originally popularized by celebrities in the hip-hop community, has subsequently spread among groups that include music fans, professional athletes and residents of certain inner-city communities. On its own, promethazine/codeine syrup presents considerable risks for the onset of serious or fatal side effects, especially when abused by people without legitimate prescriptions. When used in Purple Drank concoctions that contain alcohol, risks associated with the syrup escalate significantly.

Promethazine/Codeine Syrup Basics

Doctors typically write promethazine/codeine syrup prescriptions as part of a course of treatment for allergy or cold-related symptoms such as coughs, sinus problems or other problems involving the upper respiratory system. Promethazine belongs to a class of medications called phenothiazine antihistamines, which address allergy symptoms by blocking the normal allergy-inducing effects of a substance called histamine. Codeine belongs to a class of medications called opioid narcotics; it’s used in cough syrup because it suppresses your brain’s tendency to trigger your natural coughing reflex.

Relatively mild potential side effects of promethazine/codeine syrup include dizziness, headache, constipation, blurred vision, abnormal fatigue, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting and dryness of the nose, mouth and/or throat. However, use of the syrup can also produce severe side effects that require immediate medical attention. Examples of these potential effects include hallucinations, abnormal urine production, heartbeat irregularities, tremors, jaundice, loss of muscle control, loss of consciousness, irritability, and confusion or other forms of mental disorientation. Use of the syrup can also trigger symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as chest tightness, breathing difficulties, hives or rash, and swelling in the area of the face or mouth.

Purple Drank Basics

Known cases of promethazine/codeine syrup abuse or addiction date back to at least the 1960s. However, the rise of Purple Drank dates back to roughly the year 2000, when hip-hop performers from the Houston area started releasing songs that included references to the concoction. In addition to promethazine/codeine syrup and soda or alcohol, variations of the drink sometimes contain melted Jolly Rancher candies. Purple Drank gets its name from the distinctive purple color of its cough syrup content. Other names also used for the same beverage formula include Drank, Sizzurp, Texas Tea, Syrup, Lean, Purple Jelly, Sip-Sip and Rainbow Colors.

Purple Drank that contains soda instead of alcohol produces drug effects roughly identical to those produced by high dosages of promethazine/codeine cough syrup. These include euphoria, sedation, altered thought processes and shuffling of the feet when walking. Purple Drank that contains alcohol increases the intensity of effects such as euphoria and loss of normal muscle control; it also produces additional intoxication-related effects such as slurred speech, lowered inhibitions, and erratic or aggressive behavior. Since Purple Drank contains a prescription medication, its use by anyone without a promethazine/codeine syrup prescription automatically constitutes a form of illegal drug abuse. Even among users with a prescription, consumption of the beverage constitutes abuse since it falls outside the guidelines issued by prescribing physicians.

Purple Drank Dangers

When taken in high dosages, codeine can potentially kill you by suppressing normal function in your central nervous system (spinal cord and brain) and triggering a severe weakening of your breathing reflex. High dosages of promethazine produce the same breathing-related central nervous system effects. In combination, promethazine and codeine can also slow your heartbeat enough to trigger a fatal cardiac arrest. For these reasons, any formulation of Purple Drank can kill you, whether or not it contains alcohol. However, alcohol also has suppressive effects on your central nervous system, and consumption of a Purple Drank concoction that contains alcohol can seriously increase your risks for experiencing a fatal outcome. In addition, prolonged codeine use can trigger a chemical dependence or a full-blown addiction, and users of Purple Drank can potentially develop an ongoing addiction or symptoms related to opioid withdrawal.

Seriousness of the Problem

Purple Drank has largely slipped under the radar of national health authorities, and hard facts regarding its use are relatively difficult to find. For example, as of 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse-which frequently issues warnings and updates on dangerous trends in drug use-does not include Purple Drank-related information in its database. However, lack of sufficient resources regarding the drink does not indicate a lack of potential seriousness. Hip-hop influences entered mainstream culture long ago, and the behavior of the genre’s stars-including public odes to the “joys” of Purple Drank use-can easily reach and influence a fan base of many millions of impressionable pre-teens, teenagers and young adults. Current cultural icons known to actively use Purple Drank and/or sing its praises include the rappers Lil’ Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Kanye West.

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