Purple drank is a slang term for a recreational drug popular in the hip hop community in the southern United States, originating in Houston, Texas. Its main ingredient is prescription-strength cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine. Cough syrup is typically mixed with ingredients such as Sprite soft drink or Mountain Dew and pieces of Jolly Rancher candy. The purplish hue of purple drank comes from dyes in the cough syrup.
Houston, Texas producer DJ Screw popularized the concoction, which is widely attributed as a source of inspiration for the "chopped and screwed" style of hip hop music. Originally, the active ingredient of "syrup" was cough syrup containing promethazine and codeine. The concoction first gained popularity in the underground rap scene in Houston, where musician Big Hawk said it was consumed as early as the 1960s and 1970s, becoming more widespread in the early 1990s. Its use later spread to other southern states. Because of usage by rap artists in Houston, it became more popular in the 1990s.
In June 2000, Three 6 Mafia's single "Sippin' on Some Syrup," featuring UGK, brought the term "purple drank" to a nationwide audience. Three 6 Mafia's single "Rainbow Colors" featuring Lil' Flip pertains to the consumption of purple drank; the addition of a Jolly Rancher candy to a cup of purple drank creates a spectrum of colors, hence the name.
In 2004, the University of Texas found that 8.3% of secondary school students in Texas had taken codeine syrup to get high. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports "busts" involving syrup across the southern United States, particularly in Texas and Florida.
The most popular type of codeine syrup is promethazine-codeine, a prescription cough syrup. The active ingredients are codeine, a narcotic, and promethazine, an antihistamine. When taken in large quantities, both medications can lead to sedation and altered levels of consciousness. The inclusion of the antihistamine is intended to deter abuse, as doses higher-than-recommended can produce extreme somnolence, clinical weakness, and ultimately, fatal hypoventilation (inadequate breathing to sustain life). In lower doses, the antihistamine targets cold symptoms through reducing both swelling and vasodilation; it also acts to potentiate the opiate codeine.
Prescription cough syrups containing hydrocodone are also used to make the drink, though they are less popular. Songs like "Sippin' on Some Syrup" by Three 6 Mafia refer to Tussionex, a yellow cough syrup containing extended-release hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine (another antihistamine). Other hydrocodone-containing syrups such as Histinex HC, Hycotuss, and Hycodan may also be used, but Hycodan has added homatropine to deter abuse. Syrup also is made with over-the-counter cough syrups such as Robitussin DM, which contain dextromethorphan as the cough suppressant. Although dextromethorphan is used recreationally, it has dissociative effects as opposed to narcotic. Dextromethorphan is a synthetic morphine analog that has been on the market in the United States since the 1950s. It is a cough suppressant in small doses, but in large doses it can result in a disassociative state, with hallucinations, similar to that produced by PCP or ketamine.
Promethazine-codeine contains 10 mg of codeine and 6.25 mg of promethazine per 5 mL.
Mentions in hip hop
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In addition to its popularization in the music of DJ Screw and Three 6 Mafia, the mixture has been referenced in lyrics of other rappers. It is the subject of UGK's "Sippin and Spinnin" and "Purple Drank", as well as tracks by D12, Eminem, Lil' Wyte, Big Moe, Lil Boosie, Far East Movement, Paul Wall, Esham, Mike Jones, Kanye West, T.I., Rick Ross, Lil' Flip, Lil' Wayne, Ludacris, Fat Joe, Beanie Sigel, Project Pat, Chamillionaire, Lou Bega, Jim Jones, The Game, Slim Thug, Fat Pat, Frayser Boy, Gorilla Zoe, Z-RO, Youngbloodz, 8Ball, Papoose, Drake, Jae Millz, Mack Maine, Ace Hood, Gucci Mane, Plies, ASAP Rocky, Tech N9ne, Trae, Young Buck, E-40, Yelawolf and Mac Miller.
New Orleans rapper Lil' Wayne has publicly acknowledged his use of purple drank, and his lyrics frequently mentions drinking purple drank. In the Duffle Bag Boy music video he can be seen holding a Styrofoam cup with "RIP DJ Screw" written on it. In his freestyle to "Throw Some D's" on his mixtape Da Drought 3 he claims "I'm not a rookie, I'm a pro..methazine fiend" as well as stating "You know what's in my Styrofoam...what? S-Y-R-UP." He also mentions the substance in the track "Barry Bonds" from Kanye West's Graduation album, saying "My drink is still pinker than the Easter Rabbit," an overt reference to the color of the beverage. Wayne makes a similar reference in DJ Khaled's song "We Takin' Over." On March 15, 2013, it was reported that Wayne had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after being discovered "shaking uncontrollably" and "unconscious". Doctors found a high amount of codeine in his system and his stomach had to be pumped three times. He was said to be in critical condition. The rapper's associates were quick to deny rumors that he was near death, and he was released on March 18.
Notable deaths from use
Purple drank is confirmed or suspected to have caused the deaths of several prominent users. Respiratory depression is a potentially serious or fatal adverse drug reaction associated with the use of codeine, but mainly the danger lies in the much more potent and CNS-depressing phenothiazine-related antihistamine promethazine. This depression is dose-related and is the mechanism for the potentially fatal consequences of overdose: respiratory or cardiac arrest. As with most CNS depressants, mixing with alcohol greatly increases the risk of respiratory failure and other complications.
Big Moe, a DJ Screw protégé whose albums City of Syrup and Purple World were based on the drink and who has been described as having "rapped obsessively about the drug," died at age 33 on October 14, 2007, after suffering a heart attack one week earlier that left him in a coma. There was speculation that purple drank may have contributed to his death.
Pimp C, widely influential Port Arthur, Texas rapper and a member of rap duo UGK, was found dead on December 4, 2007, at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, California. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office reported that the rapper's death was "due to promethazine/codeine effects and other unestablished factors." Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Coroner's Office, said the levels of the medication were elevated, but not enough to deem the death an overdose. However, Pimp C had a history of sleep apnea, a condition that causes one to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. A spokesman for the coroner's office said that the combination of sleep apnea and cough medication probably suppressed Pimp C's breathing long enough to bring on his death.
Other notable incidents
In September 2006, Terrence Kiel, a San Diego Chargers player, was arrested during practice for the possession with intent to sell prescription cough syrup for use in making the drink. Kiel was caught trying to ship a case of syrup to a friend via FedEx. Kiel was charged with two felony counts of transporting a controlled substance and three counts of possession for sale of a controlled substance.
On July 8, 2008, Johnny Jolly, a Green Bay Packers player, was pulled over in his car for excessive music. The officers found a Dr Pepper bottle in a holder next to two Styrofoam cups containing soda and ice. The officers said the cups and the bottle all emitted "strong odors of codeine." The case was dismissed at first, but charges were refiled in December 2009 after the Houston Police Department's acquired new equipment that allowed the police to test the evidence again. Jolly faced a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but as a first time offender he would be eligible for probation.
On July 5, 2010, former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested at his home in Mobile, Alabama, for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. He was arrested as part of an undercover narcotics investigation. Russell was booked into city jail and released soon afterwards after making his bail.
Several legal commercial products loosely based on "purple drank" are marketed in the United States. In June 2008 Innovative Beverage Group, a Houston, Texas-based company, released a beverage called "Drank." The commercial product contains no codeine or promethazine, but claims to "Slow Your Roll" with a combination of herbal ingredients such as valerian root and rose hips as well as the hormone melatonin. Similar "relaxation" or "anti-energy" drinks on the commercial market use the names "Purple Stuff", "Sippin Syrup", and "Lean".
These commercial products have been criticized for their potential to serve as gateways to the dangerous illegal concoction. At a mental health conference in February 2010, Dr. Ronald Peters, Jr., of the University of Texas Health Science Center said of "Drank": "They're taking the name, and they're trying to market it to young people." He described the beverage as "the worst thing I've ever seen on the street since the making of candy cigarettes."
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- Lyrics for "Waisted" by Gucci Mane. The lyrics say "Sippin on purple stuff rolling up stanked" and "Purple codeine sprite paint don't wasted, Mix it up grandma drank it than tasted, Now grandma sippin syrup leanin wasted..."
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- Case against Jolly dismissed, "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", July 16, 2009
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