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Codeine Syrup

Jamarcus Russell with the Oakland Raiders (2007-2010)

Jamarcus Russell, the former NFL quarterback and exorbitantly paid #1 overall draft pick in 2007, was arrested last week for unlawful possession of codeine syrup without a prescription during an undercover sting. He was suspected of illegally abusing the controlled prescription cough medication for recreational use as Purple Drank.

Purple Drank (aka Syrup, Sizzurp, Drank) is an increasingly popular party drink found in the South. It’s a liquid concoction typically consisting of codeine syrup, promethazine (antihistamine), clear soda, and Jolly Ranchers. It conjures up similarities to the super-sweet mystery “jungle juice” often found at college frat parties (which on the otherhand is legal unless underage drinking is involved).  The codeine-based mixture was born out of the underground rap scene in Houston in the 60’s.  It gained popularity in the early 90’s when hip hop music artist DJ Screw credited the drink as the source of his inspiration for creating the “chopped and screwed” remixing style. The music is characterized by the slowing down of the tempo of rap music, just as how codeine slows down brain activity. The drink’s popularity further spread from Texas to other parts of the South and later entered into the mainstream’s awareness when Three 6 Mafia released its hit single “Sippin’ On Some Syrup” in 2000. Now, Russell is almost rendering Purple Drank as much of a household term as The Office’s “That’s what she said!”

Codeine is an opioid, like morphine and heroin. The drug is abused for the euphoric high and rush that it gives people. Clinically, codeine is used as a painkiller, as in Tyelnol #3, and a cough suppressant, as opioids suppress the cough reflex. Although codeine is 1/10 as potent as morphine and way less toxic than heroin, it nevertheless carries all the potential negative effects of opioid misuse – intoxication with speech slurring and cognitive impairment, addiction, and death by coma and respiratory depression.  The effects of opioids are further intensified by alcohol, an often deadly combo of CNS depressants. You can probably guess what caused DJ Screw’s premature death.

Stopping or reducing heavy and prolonged opioid use will lead to withdrawals.  Although opioid withdrawal is rarely ever life-threatening, it causes very distressing symptoms like irritability and dysphoria, piloerection (fancy way of saying goosebumps), nausea, diarrhea, muscle cramps, aches, and flu-like symptoms.  It’s definitely not what you want to be going through on a first date. Interestingly, the common expressions used to describe the abrupt cessation of habitual behavior – go cold turkey and kick the habit – come from the opioid withdrawal symptoms of goosebumps (resembling a plucked turkey) and muscle spasms in the leg (causing kicking movements), respectively.

Prior to his recent legal troubles, Russell’s life on the field was no better. Two months earlier, the Raiders severed ties with him and released him to unrestricted free agency.  Currently, no NFL team would even consider touching him with a 10-foot pole. He’s arguably the biggest draft bust in NFL history. Notorious for his poor work ethic and bad decision making, he also had significant weight gain issues that seems to strengthen the case that he’s been sipping the syrup for some time (the sugar in soda and hard candy coupled with antihistamines will certainly make you a great candidate to compete on the Biggest Loser).  If codeine is truly behind his on-field failure, it would be wise for the once highly-touted natural athlete to seek professional help for his substance use. Maybe then, he could resurrect his career and possibly lead his team to winning a championship title (and then thank his psychiatrist on national TV as Ron Artest did).

If you’re interested in psych issues and sports, you should check out the Sports Psychiatrist, a dear friend and colleague of mine.



Filed under Celebrities, Drugs