Cough syrup abuse typically involves taking codeine-promethazine hydrochloride cough syrup and mixing it with soda, alcohol, or candy in a concoction known as ‘syzurp’, ‘syrup’, or ‘purple stuff’. The ingredients in this concoction make it very easy to develop an addiction. Experts are worried about the danger of this syrup being such a highly trendy drug drink. It may be socially acceptable, but there have been many stories of overdoses or people drinking syrup at a party and falling asleep at the wheel when they drive home. As an opiate it is a very addictive substance. Erratic behavior and insomnia, or an inability to sleep without syrup are the warning signs of needing addiction treatment.
People on syrup experience highs akin to LSD or PCP and euphoric sensations. More than 140 of the cough and cold medicines sold over the counter contain the ingredient dextromethorphan. Addicts of this substance can wind up requiring drug rehab, in the hospital, or in the morgue. In fact, the abuse of syrup leads to thousands of hospitalizations a year. In 2008 alone, there were 8,000 hospitalizations.
The effects of syrup or dextromethorphan abuse vary with the amount taken. As syrup, the drug is usually taken at hundreds of times the recommended dosage. Common side effects include confusion, dizziness, double or blurred vision, slurred speech, impaired physical coordination, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, rapid heart beat, drowsiness, numbness of fingers and toes, and disorientation. The effects typically last for 6 hours. More serious effects include elevated blood pressure, fainting, and liver damage. Over the counter medications that contain dextromethorphan often contain antihistamine and decongestant ingredients, and high does of these increase the risk of abuse.
Experts purport that the abuse of syrup soaring by 70% in the past four years can be attributed to the drug’s perceived safety, ease of availability, and desired psychoactive effects. In an effort to cut down on substance abuse, the FDA may restrict these medications to prescription use only. It may also require the drugs to be sold behind the counter or restrict purchases by those under the age of 18. Currently the FDA has decided to not make restrictions, but the problem may be addressed again in the future. In the 1970’s the FDA had to pull over the counter cough syrups with codeine from store shelves due to the danger of substance abuse. Dextromethorphan is actually the substitute drug for codeine. However, when they are able to obtain prescription strength cough syrup, which does have codeine, some people will use that to create syrup as well.
People obtain prescription cough syrup with codeine by ordering from online pharmacies that accept unverified prescriptions and identifications. And DEA agents say the demand for illicit syrup has made the price rise. Syrup that sells for $12 a pint that is stolen or obtained illegally from pharmacies is sold to street dealers for $300 a pint. It is then sold to users for about $640 – $1,360 a pint. The DEA’s biggest drug busts have been in Texas and Florida. Those with a codeine addiction may feel like it’s okay because it’s medicine, but too much codeine (which is produced from morphine) can depress the central nervous system and actually stoop the heart and lungs.
Much like narcotic drugs or prescription medications, if a person develops a drug addiction to syrup that contains regular over the counter medication, withdrawal symptoms can result. Withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, muscle aches, bone aches, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes. The withdrawal process has the ability to be life-threatening if not properly monitored in a professional environment such as a drug and alcohol rehab. The addict will need help to stop taking syrup and learn how to function normally without it. Detoxification will be necessary to cleanse the body of the drug and must be done under physician care.
Abusing syrup with codeine is even more harmful. Codeine is an opiate that is turned into morphine by the body and is related to morphine and heroin. Codeine can depress breathing and other body systems. Drug addiction can result within two to three weeks of use and can result in psychological and physiological addiction. Withdrawal symptoms include restless legs, insomnia, pain, nausea, depression, vomiting, headaches, and muscle aches. Like any other opioid addiction, treatment at a drug rehab should be immediate. Many bodily systems are affected by codeine addiction and it can lead to death.