Cough Syrup Abuse in Texas Takes Center Stage

ByABC News
August 17, 2005, 11:45 AM

Aug. 17, 2005 — -- A federal retrial may shine the spotlight on a recreational drug whose use has given Houston the unwanted nickname "City of Syrup" and may already be an overlooked national problem.

Houston teenagers have been increasingly abusing prescription codeine-promethazine hydrochloride cough syrup and mixing it with soda, alcohol or candy in a concoction known as "syzurp" or "purple stuff." This trend may be illustrated in the retrial of six pharmacists accused of illegally dispensing the potentially addictive cough syrup.

The pharmacists on trial are: John David Wiley III, 40; Anthony Dwayne Essett, 38; Otukayode Adeleke Otufale, 40; Isaac Simeon Achobe, 50; Chicha Kazembe Combs, 29; and Andre Dion Brown, 37. In a 170-count indictment, they are charged with illegally dispensing gallons of the cough syrup and tablets of the narcotic painkiller hydrocodone, money laundering and conspiracy. Their first trial ended in a mistrial in May when a jury was unable to reach a verdict after four days of deliberation.

Studies by the University of Texas School of Public Health in 2003 and 2004 found that 25 percent of at-risk Houston teenagers said that they had used the cough syrup, with 10 percent claiming they had used the drug within 30 days of being questioned for the study.

Experts say abuse of the syrup could already be a national problem and parents and government officials need to be aware of its danger and powerful addictive potential.

"It started in Houston, but there has been no national surveillance of this drug," said Ron Peters, assistant professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health and lead author of the two studies. "But in my opinion this is already a national problem. You have rappers who have spread the word on syrup just by talking about what's going on in their community. And you have teens who have learned about and talked about syrup just by what they've seen on the Internet."

Besides purple stuff and syzurp, the addictive cough syrup concoction has also been known as "lean," "drank," "barre," "purple jelly," or simply, "syrup." Those who have had the drug refer to its intake as "sipping on syrup." In Peters' studies, he found that 54 percent of admitted syzurp users were black, with 33 percent Hispanic and 13 percent Caucasian. Eighty-one percent of the admitted users in the study were male.