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More and More Young French People Are Getting High on Cough Syrup

The cocktail of cough syrup and soda long known in the US as 'purple drank' has made it way across the Atlantic Ocean. And French health authorities are not pleased.
Immagine di Dylan Cantwell/Flickr

Young people in France are consuming more and more cough syrup — and it's not because of flu season.

On Thursday, the country's National Agency of Medicine and Health Products Safety (ANSM) warned doctors and pharmacists about the increasing misuse of cough suppressants among the country's youth.

According to the ANSM, French teens and young adults are increasingly getting hooked on prescription and over-the-counter cough syrups. Recreational use of these drugs, the agency said, can have devastating consequences and lead to fatal overdoses.


Cough syrups that contain codeine — an opioid that is used as an analgesic and cough suppressant — are the key ingredients of "purple drank," a concoction that was popularized in the US in the 1990s.

Also known as sizzurp, lean, or dirty Sprite, purple drank is a cocktail of soda, cough syrup, and H1 antihistamine — that help counter the side effects of the drug. It takes its name from the color of most prescription cough syrups.

French users describing the purple drank high on a web forum said the potion makes you "uninhibited and unstressed."

In its report, ANSM noted that the first reports of cough syrup abuse in France surfaced in 2013. The popularity of purple drank had "significantly increased" since then, the agency warned.

According to the agency, growing numbers of pharmacists are reporting "suspicious requests" for cough syrup. The ANSM also highlighted several cases of "addiction or abuse, which in some cases led to hospitalization."

Men and women are equally affected, and the majority of users are teenagers or young adults. The youngest user registered by ANSM was 12 years old.

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The agency said that users had described symptoms including "difficulty being alert (drowsiness), behavioral difficulties (agitation, confusion or delirium), as well as generalized seizures."

One of ANSM's earlier reports linked the consumption of purple drank to central nervous system depression, seizures, respiratory depression or apnea.


In order to prevent codeine abuse by France's younger generations, the ANSM has urged pharmacists and doctors to make sure patients do not have a history of drug abuse and addiction before prescribing cough syrup.

While some rock bands in the 70s and 80s were known to extol the virtues of cough syrup, the purple beverage was popularized by the legendary DJ Screw, a hip hop artist from Houston who pioneered the "chopped and screwed" genre in the '90s. The technique, which involved slowing records down, was meant to mimic the way music sounded when high on purple drank.

DJ Screw was found dead in his recording studio on November 16, 2000, of a reported codeine overdose. DJ Screw was an influential artist, and a number of hip hop artists have carried on his legacy and his penchant for purple drank. Future — a rapper from Atlanta — released several mixtapes titled Dirty Sprite.

Danny Brown, a rapper from Detroit, was also known for regularly using the drug. But in 2014, Brown quit "lean" and gave several interviews highlighting the effects of codeine abuse.

Since DJ Screw's death in 2000, two other rappers have died from codeine overdoses — 33-year-old Pimp C, in 2007, and 26-year-old A$AP Yams, a member of the A$AP Rocky collective, who died in January 2015.

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This article originally appeared on VICE News' French edition.

Image via Flickr.