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Here's what "Purple Drank" can do to your body

Updated: Mar. 27, 2017 at 8:32 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Pharmacist James Jones, owner of Jones Drugs in Montgomery, said he gets frustrated when he hears about prescription drug abuse situations like the one in Conecuh County on Saturday. That's when the sheriff's office found and seized 822 bottles of "purple drink".

"Because you have a subset of the population who abuse it, it'll make it harder for those people who need the medication to get it," Jones said.

"Purple drink"  is made up of a strong prescription cough syrup, Sprite or Mountain Dew, and usually Jolly Rancher candies to improve color and taste. Most commonly, the drink is made with cough syrups containing codeine and/or promethazine.

Codeine, an opiate, and promethazine, a sedative, are powerful drugs, individually. Codeine, on its own, causes drowsiness, euphoria, and slows body functions and reactions.

Jones said promethazine is also prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting. The two, ingested together and in excess, can lead to a euphoric high, without the side effect of nausea.

Dr. Bernie Olin, of Auburn University's Drug Information Center, said the drink was first really spotted on the scene in late 90s. It goes by a number of what Olin called "street names", like "Lean", "Dirty Sprite", "Sizzurp", "Purple Drank" and "Purple Stuff".

According to Olin, the more concerning of the two substances is codeine because, when taken in excess, it can lead to opiate addiction, extreme drowsiness, and disorientation and, worst of all, respiratory depression that can cause someone to stop breathing.

"From what I've read, when people make this drink they tend to use about 25 times the standard dosage of the product," Olin said.

With concerns to cost, Jones said a bottle of the prescription cough syrup can cost anywhere from four or five dollars for a small bottle to about 100 dollars. It depends on the specific product, the amount, and whether the customer has insurance.

A pharmacy technician at Jones Drugs said it would make sense for the "street price" of the product to be very different than the actual cost of the medication because it would be based off of "how much they can sell it for", explaining why the valuation of the bottles found in Conecuh County (more than $700,000 in total) is so high.

The drink has been prominent in particular rap lyrics and other pop culture mediums. The pharmacy techs at Jones Drugs said they have even seen bottles of a product called "Legal Lean" being sold at local gas stations.

"It's basically a product that doesn't have any codeine or promethazine in it," technician Shanna Austin said. "It's an herbal mixture, but the way it's being distributed looks almost exactly like our prescription drug bottles."

Jones said the incident in Conecuh County raises questions, as a pharmacist, of how someone was able to get their hands on so many bottles such a powerful drug. The photo posted by the sheriff's office shows the drink in medication bottles with the same pharmaceutical brand that Jones Drugs carries.

The Conecuh County Sheriff's Office did not respond to the three interview requests made for this follow-up story.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said there have not been many "purple drank" cases reported in Alabama, but that could be because the mixture is highly addictive, illegal and easy to conceal.

ALEA said anyone who ingests the drink should receive immediate medical attention. It said the concoction has the same potential for abuse as heroin, oxycontin, and morphine.

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