Codeine and Cough Syrup Addiction

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Courtesy of watashiwani (Flickr CC0)

Codeine is an opioid that treats mild pain and can be used to suppress a cough. It is a Schedule III prescription drug because of the high levels of abuse. It is closely controlled and monitored when used in cough syrup.

Cough syrup has been abused for many years. Adolescents have been using it to get drunk or high instead of paying for illegal drugs or stealing alcohol, according to American Addiction Centers. With cough syrup being legal to buy, it has been abused by many people. However, after cough syrup with codeine has been restricted and alcohol has been removed from cough syrup, the patterns of abuse have changed in the U.S.

One way that codeine-based cough syrups have been abused is by adding the substance into alcoholic drinks and standard soda. These mixtures created a dangerous concoction that is intoxicating. Some notorious names for mixed beverages are Syrup, Sizzurp, Purple Drank, and Lean. Rappers and pop stars have made these beverages popular, according to American Addiction Center.

Purple Drank and DXM

The primary ingredient in codeine-based cough syrup is the light opioid narcotic. This creates a target of abuse for those that seek a narcotic high. Numerous codeine-based cough syrups stopped containing alcohol. Purple Drank and similar mixes frequently contain alcohol. A few of the cough syrups might contain Dextromethorphan (DXM). This is a cough suppressor that takes the place of codeine in cold and flu medications that can be bought over-the-counter. DXM is also dangerous and intoxicating and has been abused. Promethazine is a sedating substance that is frequently found in cough syrup as well.

The name Purple Drank gets its name from the purple color of the typical codeine-based cough syrups.

The FDA approved DXM in 1958. The drug can be found in a minimum of 70 different over-the-counter cold and cough medications. Other names for DXM are Dexies, Drix, Mega-pearls, Black beauties, Dextro, Gel, Red devils, Groove, Rojo, Robo, Rome, Poor man’s ecstasy, Skittles, Skittling, Sky, Tussin, Triple C (Coricidin Cough and Cold), and Velvet.

Courtesy of Michael Lehet (Flickr CC0)

DEA Thoughts of Codeine Abuse

The alcohol, soda, cough syrup, and possibly hard candies such as Jolly Ranchers initially became popular in the 1990s. After that, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rescheduled codeine to make a prescription mandatory. Federal and state authorities now track the prescription and the sale of general cough syrup.

In 2014, the DEA thought that one in 10 adolescents abused codeine-based cough syrups to get high. In 2008, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) stated that 3 million young adults and teens between the ages of 12-25 had used cold or cough medications to get high. These numbers include the use of over-the-counter DXM medications and codeine cough syrup.

Dangers of Mixed Drinks

This form of abuse is believed to be a piece of hip-hop culture. Many celebrities have been hospitalized or died after consuming mixed beverages or combining Sizzurp with other intoxicating drugs.

The consumption of Sizzurp that involve alcohol, codeine, and/or other depressants can be dangerous. Some side effects include:

  • Seizures
  • Euphoria
  • Loss of coordination
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Sedation
  • Cravings
  • Memory loss
  • Addiction

Written by Marrissa Kay


Kids Health: Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse; by Steven Dowshen, MD
Stanford Children’s Health: Cough Medicine Abuse by Teens
American Addiction Centers: Cough Syrup with Codeine Abuse, Also Known as Lean and Purple Drank; by Meredith Watkins, M.A., M.F.T.

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of watashiwani’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Michael Lehet’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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