Stay off the Sizzurp

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And now for something completely different….. This morning I was asked to phone in as the guest expert on Philly’s morning radio show, to talk about rapper Lil Wayne’s recent hospitalization for an overdose on his drug of choice, Sizzurp. I only spoke for a couple of minutes, and I didn’t really get a chance to say why this purple poison really gives me cause for concern. A few weeks ago, an article was going around on Facebook, warning about a new form of crystal meth called Strawberry Pop Rocks, a supposed pink, fruit flavored form of the dangerous street drug being marketed to kids. A few of my mommy friends posted the warning and immediately recognized the serious danger this could pose for our children. Fortunately, I checked out the article on Snopes, and found that it was based on a hoax. No such drug exists…yet. We still have reason to fear, however, because Sizzurp is real, and just as scary. Sizzurp is a slang word for syrup, also known in the hip hop community as Purple Drank, Lean, Barre, and Texas Tea. It is a sweet, syrupy concoction made from prescription cough medicine, soda, and hard candy, usually drunk out of a styrofoam cup. With its bright color, sweet flavor, and cheap, easy accessibility, the purple poison poses a major health risk for today’s young people. The beverage is alluded to in a number of popular rap songs by artists such as Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Kanye West. The pop song, Like a G6, by Far East Movement, is one that even my 6 year old sings along to, not realizing that its lyrics refer to the use of the drug: Popping bottles in the ice, like a blizzard/When we drink we do it right, gettin’ slizzard/sipping sizzurp in my ride/like Three 6/Now I’m feeling so fly, like a G6. While rappers glamorize the drink’s relaxing effects, they don’t talk about its dangers. For example, in Like a G6, the term “Three 6” refers to the rap group Three 6 Mafia, whose song “Sippin on Some Syrup,” brought the awareness of the drug to a nationwide audience in June, 2000. The song featured the rap duo UGK, whose member Pimp C, died in 2007 from his use of the cough syrup drink. The sizzurp has also taken the lives of rappers Big Moe and DJ Screw, other artists whose songs popularized the use of the drug. The main ingredient in sizzurp is a prescription cough medicine made of the opioid drug, codeine, and the antihistamine, promethazine. While in prescribed doses, these medications control coughing, they also produce the side effects of drowsiness and suppressed pain. Because both drugs are CNS depressants, they slow down heart rate and respiration. In a typical cup of sizzurp, the levels of codeine and promethazine can be up to 25x that of the prescription dose, which creates respiratory depression. Drunk quickly, the beverage can cause hypoventilation, a condition wherein the body simply can not breathe deeply enough to sustain life, and cardiac arrest. When mixed with other CNS depressants such as alcohol or pain killers, as the purple drank often is, the potential for deadly effects becomes even greater. Because too much, too soon easily leads to overdose, users sip sizzurp slowly. The sugar in the drink is known to cause tooth decay, weight gain, and can lead to diabetes, but these are not the greatest hazards. Due to codeine’s narcotic properties, sizzurp can quickly lead to addiction. Opioid drugs such as codeine are metabolized in the liver, and converted to morphine. The brain gets flooded with the opiate compounds, suppressing the release of natural endorphins that our brains produce to help us feel good. Without the body’s production of endorphins to elevate mood, users start to feel down and tense without the drug in their system, and become dependent on the purple stuff to feel relief. When habitual sizzurp drinkers try to stop, they experience extreme nausea, vomiting, tremors and pain, similar to the withdrawal effects of heroin. Sizzurp addicts require detox in a rehab facility when they are ready to put down their drug of choice. When kids think of medicine, the associations are wholesome ones. Cough syrup is something you get from your doctor, Mommy gives it to you when you’re sick. It is easy to for young people to presume it safe, and to be naive to its potentially deadly and addictive properties. I hope that Lil Wayne’s recent brush with death will bring the dangers of this drug into the public arena, and that rap stars will stop glamorizing the toxic cocktail. Until then, teach your children well, and stay off the sizzurp.

By Dr. Marla Cohen 03/18/2013 07:59 AM

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