The Five Moms

We are five moms from different backgrounds who have come together with a common concern: teenagers abusing OTC cough medicine to get high.

Parents, we have the power to make a difference! Read our blog to learn more.

August 12, 2016 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re taking a slightly different approach and diving into a recent news story. Specifically, we’re looking at the difference between cough syrup with codeine (a.k.a. “purple drank”) and cough syrup with dextromethorphan (a.k.a. “tussin”).

If you’re a Dallas Cowboy fan, there’s no way you missed the Rolando McClain controversy last week. But for all the non-football fans out there, we’ll catch you up: McClain, a linebacker for the Cowboys, is facing a ten game suspension for failing his latest drug test and testing positive for “purple drank.”

“Purple drank,” is a slang term for a mixture of prescription-strength cough medicine, soda (typically Sprite or Mountain Dew), ice and occasionally a Jolly Rancher for added sweetness. The base for this dangerous concoction is the cough syrup and, more specifically, the active ingredient codeine. 

When abused, “purple drank” can cause nausea, sedation, stomach bleeding, kidney and liver damage, depression, hallucinations, convulsions, tremors and even seizures. Also known as “sizzurp” and “lean,” “purple drank” is highly addictive and can be deadly when mixed with alcohol. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that medicines with codeine aren’t the only type of cough medicines that are abused. Cough medicines with the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) can be abused in a similar way to “purple drank.” In fact, teenagers may confuse cough syrups with codeine and DXM as the slang terms for both substances are sometimes interchangeable. “Orange crush,” for example, is a slang term that can refer to cough medicines with DXM or codeine. With this in mind, it’s important for parents to be fully aware of the distinction between the two substances. 

In addition to the difference in the active ingredient, parents should be aware that cough medicines that contain DXM are available over-the-counter (OTC). As a result, these medicines might be easier for teenagers to obtain. Teens may also mistakenly believe that because DXM is more easily accessible, it must be a harmless and easy way to get high. 

It’s also critical to note the difference in the side effects that result from abusing each substance. While the abuse of both codeine and DXM might result in nausea and vomiting, the abuse of DXM produces some slightly different side effects as well. Additional side effects of DXM abuse include blurred vision, confusion, slurred speech, rapid heartbeat, numbness, drowsiness, disorientation and impaired physical condition. 

Ultimately, regardless of the substance, parental awareness is the first step to stopping medicine abuse. In fact, teens who learn about the dangers of substance abuse from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to abuse drugs. So after doing your research, make sure to have an honest and informed conversation with your teen about DXM, codeine and other forms of abuse in order to keep them safe and healthy.