Parents and caregivers have been warned to hide the cough syrup from their teenagers, as the American drug craze called “lean” or “sizzurp” takes off on the Cape Flats.
The mixture – which can contain cough syrup, pain killers, sweets, fizzy drinks and alcohol – is also referred to as “purple drank”, and is apparently being consumed by the litre by school children.
The Western Cape Education Department says it causes feelings of euphoria, followed by a “sleepy and calm state”.
But a Mitchells Plain pharmacist has warned that users run the risk of liver damage, heart failure and respiratory problems due to the medicine’s high codeine content.
A Mitchells Plain chemist, who asked not to be named, says he has seen an increase in schoolkids trying to buy cough syrup, going for as little as R15 over the counter.
He says the problem has been around for many years, but blames the recent spike in “sizzurp” use in American pop culture, where stars like Lil Wayne have popularised the drink in songs.
“This started 25 years ago and was more popular in the white areas, but it has moved to our communities. Here we have seen an increase in children attempting to buy these syrups, but our staff already know who the regulars are,” he says.
Yesterday, Plumstead High School principal, Craig George, went public on Cape Talk Radio, alerting parents to the warning signs of “lean” addicts.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schafer, says they are aware of the problem.
“We urge pharmacies to be aware of who they are selling over-the-counter medication to. Most of these substances are legal, but pharmacies are meant to keep a register,” she says.
She adds the growing trend is concerning as the usage affects pupils during school sessions.
“The abuse of over the counter medication such as cough mixtures and slimming mixtures can result in hyperactivity, a decrease in attention span as well as aggressive behaviour.”
A 22-year-old Strandfontein man tells the Daily Voice he uses lean every day but doesn’t regard it as an illegal drug, like tik.
“It makes you feel ‘lean’, calm and chilled and relaxed,” he says.
“I use a whole bottle of syrup a day and I cannot say how long my high lasts, only that I sleep well at night.
“I buy it at any pharmacy. I’ve had no side effects but it is addictive.”
But the young man says both the media and the music industry are to blame, where “sizzurp” is made out to be a party drink, and how kwaai it is to be “lean”.
In popular music, The Far East Movement’s hit Like a G6 has lyrics: “Sippin sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6, Now I’m feeling so fly like a G6”.
Rapper Lil Wayne even dedicated a whole song to it, called Me and My Drank.
While local rapper AKA’s lyrics say: “Coming to you live from the third world. Getting high on the purple.”
Meanwhile, the Mitchells Plain pharmacist warns lean may permanently damage the liver and other organs if used continuously.
“Cough syrup and pain medication is a big problem. These children drink it straight from the bottle, which affects the liver,” he says.
“These are known as schedule two drugs which means you can buy them over the counter but there needs to be a measure of control.”