My lungs are working overtime!

Have you ever had a bad cough?  I mean a cough so evil that you can’t sleep, it annoys every member of your family, and it is so loud that people give you dirty looks at the pharmacy.  That is my current state as I am writing this blog post.  In fact, I write a little, cough a lot, get a sip  of water, and go back to writing.  IT STINKS!!  However, I don’t have to suffer as much since I got some awesome cough syrup from the physician.  Okay, I can’t pronounce its name, but I don’t care!  It puts me into a relaxed state so that I can get at least four hours of sleep without hacking my brains out.  Believe me, when this woman doesn’t sleep, it is not a good day in the Morton household!

One thing about many of the strong cough medicines is that they taste yucky.  My current syrup does not disappoint and tastes horrid.  After taking my last dose, a thought popped in my head…how can teenagers drink substantial amounts of this stuffOh, that’s right they combine it with soda or candy…what is it called?  Oh, purple drink, no purple drank!  After taking my medicine, I came into the living room and started researching the purple drank.  What are its origins?  What is its appeal to teens?  What does it do the body?  What I found made me decide to write this post for my fellow school counselors.  I hope this information may be helpful to you when you return to your school.

Purple Drank

 If you truly want to think like your students, visit the Urban Dictionary.  One contributor described the purple drank as “codeine/promethazine cough syrup mixed in with some sprite. serve it up in a white styrafoam (sic) cup with some ice and your good to go. you can mix it up with all kinds of sodas or just sip the ish. there is NO alcohol in it and its NOT robitussin. It’s thick and purple and comes only by prescription or by your local weedman. not to be sipped by suckas!!!!!”  Okay, for you and me that means the drink contains a codeine and antihistamine cough syrup mixed with sprite and candies like jolly ranchers or skittles.  Texas Monthly Magazine found that the origins of the drink began in Houston when hip hop producer DJ Screw popularized the drink in the 90s.  Screws and his music became so synonymous with the drink that Houston was publicized as the “City of Syrup.” Following the death of Screws (he died from a codeine overdose…imagine that), the drink was popularized by rappers from the South like Lil Wayne and Ludacris.

Lil Wayne promotes Sizzurp in his songs

Effects of the Purple Drank on Teens

The Purple drank (aka Sizzurp, Texas Tea, Lean or Purple Jelly) can have severe negative effects on a teen when taken recreational.  These symptoms include drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and confusion. When mixed with other substances,  like weed, alcohol, or Ecstasy, it can create a zombie like state. Long term use of syrup can have other serious side effects like weight gain, tooth decay, anxiety, tremors from withdrawal, and even death. The first time I experienced someone who was abusing syrup was when one of our honor students came in my office sweating profusely and in a state of utter confusion.  At first, I was unsure why the student was acting so out of character, but later I found out that s/he had been abusing syrup severely for over a year.  The impact of syrup addiction had a negative impact on this promising student as s/he was arrested for stealing syrup and failed to graduate on time. 

Video: What is Sizzurp?

How the Purple Drank Became Part of Pop Culture (CNN)

Effects of the Sizzurp

Although it is medically proven that taking cough syrup recreationally is harmful and has attributed to the deaths of many teens and adults, there are some comments after the last video that I wanted to include.  These comments really put into perspective how many teens and young adults rationalize their syrup use.

Quotes from Cough Syrup Users:

I’ve done DXM hundreds of times, often for several days straight, and I’m reasonably convinced that it’s had no negative effects on my mind: I recently completed my PhD in math; I can speak, read, and write French and Mandarin Chinese; and I have an awesome paying international job that I’m pretty good at. The only detriment is elevated blood pressure and difficulty sleeping the night after dexing because of its NSSRI effects.”

I tried that combo for the first time a few weeks ago, and man, was it crazy – wonky fun! As THC stimulates the imagination and DXM stimulates the analytical part of the brain, it was like the THC was making my imagination go nuts and produce all kinds of crazy stuff, and the DXM would then make my brain devour that stuff and process it. It felt like my whole head was doing some crazy dance: I don’t know how else to describe it. Really cool experience!”

Source: You Tube

Even popular actors are applauding syrup use on social media.  See the comment from Bill Murray (Ghost buster fame).

A. R. Shaw in his article, 10 Things Hip-Hop Stars Won’t Tell You About Using Purple Drank, gave some great examples of information that teens and young people need to know about syrup. I decided to take this information and put it on a poster to hang up during Red Ribbon Week. Here is my first attempt at creating a poster…

Demographics of Youth Who Abuse Cough Syrup

In a study conducted among college students in the southeastern U.S., researchers identified several groups who abuse syrup.  These groups include males, members of the LGBTQ community, and students from suburban and urban areas.  In their study, the researchers found there was a strong correlation between the abuse of cough syrup and the music preference (i.e. rap) of the students.  In a study on the impact of musical preference and drug use, Stogner found several theoretical explanations for a particular substance choice by each subculture.

  • Music is a way to bring people together and they often model behaviors from the lyrics of the artists.
  • Those who listen to certain types of music are sensation seekers and use substances to increase those feelings.
  • Youth often choose peer groups who reinforce their substance abuse and this can be accomplished by listening to certain genres of music.

In the future, researchers believe there may be a shift in youth who abuse syrup as other genres of music, like country, begin to promote its use.
Source: Purple Drank Research

                Prevalence of Syrup Use Among High School Seniors
Cough medicine is the fourth leading abused drug

Purple Drank Prevention and Intervention

Of course, the best way to deal with syrup abuse is to prevent it before it begins. 

1. A great way to do this is in drug awareness campaigns during the year like Red Ribbon Week or Drug Fact Awareness Week. The purpose of these national events is to educate students about the dangers of drug abuse and expose myths perpetuated by the media. 
2. Another prevention activity is to host a parent education night either in person or online.  This is an excellent opportunity to include community members in your school like the medical community, law enforcement, health department, therapists, and even people who have overcome addiction.  Check out this impressive parent presentation by Frederick County, Maryland
3. In addition, providing protective factors like good communication, positive school activities, access to peer helpers, and encouraging positive student-adult interaction are effective ways to prevent drug use among teens.
4. Also, think about applying your skills in cognitive-behavioral approaches as an effective prevention method with students who are at risk for addition.
5. Another strategy is to set up a student led organization to educate students against the dangers of drug use.  One great organization is Students Against Destructive Decisions or SADD.  
6. Think about using prevention curricula in your classroom guidance activities. Below, I have provided some information on a prevention program called Home 2 Homeroom and Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse lesson plans that may be useful to schools.

Resources for Counselors
9-12 Lesson Plan on Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse
Home 2 Homeroom
Educational Poster

Red Ribbon Resources
Download Red Ribbon Resources  

Resources for Parents
The Medicine Abuse Project

Next, we always want to address students who are abusing substances and assist their families in getting the help they need.  First, you must be aware of signs and symptoms in order to help identify possible drug abuse in your students.  Next, school counselors can serve as the liaison between families and therapeutic facilities. Another strategy is to connect families to community supports as students are in recovery.  Check out these strategies from Natoya Haskins’ article The School Counselor’s Role With Students At-Risk for Substance Abuse.

With its ease of access, cough syrup addiction is becoming more prevalent among students, particularly in the rap culture.  School counselors can make a difference by educating students and parents about its dangers, providing protective factors for students in the school environment, and serving as a liaison between community resources and families who are struggling with an addicted student. Since codeine addiction is not easy to
overcome,  the student may develop a negative or even violent reaction to our meddling in their affairs. Watching a student transform from a promising future into self destruction patterns is not easy. Although this may not be a popular topic in our schools, as school counselors we are not in the business of comfort.  Our focus should be to continue to provide supports for high school students and their families so that they can graduate and become productive, self sustaining citizens.

Check out these additional articles and resources:
How Teens Smuggle Booze Under Your Nose
Skittles Not Just a Candy
Why Sizzurp is Unsafe to Slurp
 Drug Free World
Life Skills Drug Use Prevention Curriculum


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