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Sizzurp’s just another name for prescription abuse

Chad Lamont Butler – “Pimp C” on record – finally reached the big time in 2007. A talented rapper, collaborator and producer, Pimp C and his partner in the rap duo UGK, Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, had just released their first number-one record, a sprawling double album set that was received with rave reviews.

Sadly, Butler was found dead in his room at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles that December. The Los Angeles coroner’s office listed his cause of death as accidentally resulting from the combination of codeine and sleep apnea. His death wasn’t the first. Robert “DJ Screw” Davis, one of the architects of the distinct Houston-based sound that inspired UGK, died in 2000 from an overdose of codeine along with other drugs.

The main suspect in these deaths and others goes by names like “lean,” “purple drank” and “sizzurp.” Prescription cough syrup has been abused for decades, but its profile has risen lately thanks to music figures such as Lil Wayne, who was reportedly hospitalized by sizzurp in 2013. Even mainstream figures like Justin Bieber have been associated with sizzrup abuse. The problem is so bad that pharmaceutical company Actavis pulled their cough syrup off shelves in 2014.

These glamorous associations make it easy to assume that sizzrup is something other than prescription abuse with a glammed-up image. It isn’t.

What is sizzurp?

Sizzurp abuse is often confused with dextromethorphan abuse. DXM is a substance found in several over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Although often – and dangerously – abused on its own, sizzurp is a different medication entirely.

The prescription-strength cough syrup used in sizzurp is a combination of two drugs: The narcotic codeine and promethazine, which acts as a cough suppressant. Promethazine is also an antihistamine and a sedative. These syrups are traditionally prescribed to people with bronchitis or chronic respiratory diseases – the codeine eases the chest pain chronic coughing causes.

When abused, the cough syrup is mixed with soft drinks and/or pieces of hard candy, poured over ice and then sipped. This is dangerous for users in two ways: The user receives a much higher dose of the drug, and the user often combines sizzurp with other substances like marijuana or alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, codeine and promethazine are both central nervous system depressants. In smaller doses, these drugs have a sedating effect. When abused in larger amounts, these drugs can slow – or stop – heart and lung function, leading to death. Mixing sizzurp with alcohol greatly increases this danger.

There’s an additional danger to sizzurp: it’s addictive. Although not as strong as other opiates, codeine affects the brain in the same way. It increases the amount of dopamine in the brain when abused, leading to feelings of euphoria. Repeated surges of dopamine can change the chemical balance of the body, leading to tolerance and addiction.

Although addiction is a dangerous disease which can be fatal, it’s also a disease that responds well to treatment. Sovereign Health of Texas is staffed with experts in the treatment field. We use modern, effective methods to help our clients become – and stay – sober. We’ll help you, or someone you’re concerned about, move past substance abuse into a new, productive life. Please call our 24/7 helpline for more information.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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