What’s Sizzurp? Ask T.I. or the FDA

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What’s syrupy sweet, deep purple and entirely hazardous? No, it isn’t this guy. It’s sizzurp, a popular drink made with cough syrup (usually the prescription-strength kind with codeine), 7-Up and Jolly Ranchers candies.

Rapper T.I. (real name Clifford Harris Jr.) and his wife Tameka “Tiny” Cottle were arrested late Wednesday night in L.A. for drug possession when police searched the couple’s car, after smelling marijuana wafting from it at a traffic stop, and found pills that were believed to be ecstasy. Photos taken of the car at the time of arrest also showed Styrofoam cups, an iconic symbol of sizzurp, sparking Internet rumors that the couple were abusing the drug-laced drink.

There has not been any confirmation that cough syrup was a factor in T.I. and Tiny’s arrest, but the drink has long been popular within the hip-hop community. It is often mentioned in songs, like Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp” and Lil’ Wayne’s “Me and My Drank.” Since it’s typically drunk from Styrofoam cups, music videos often use the cups as props to suggest the presence of the substance, while staying on the right side of the FCC. (LAWeekly has put together a top 10 list of sizzurp-inspired videos.) Unsurprisingly, sizzurp is also popular with teenagers — it’s cheap and easy to make, even if you’re underage. Meanwhile, the FDA has called for tighter restrictions on cough syrup to avoid abuse, including mixing sizzurp or the practice of “robotripping,” in which people chug a bottle of cough syrup in an attempt to get a hallucinatory effect.

Also referred to as “purple drank” and “sippin’ syrup,” sizzurp is addictive and has the potential to contribute to overdose. Codeine and promethazine — the opiates in prescription-strength cough syrup — can be lethal when mixed with alcohol or taken in high doses. Even dextromethorphan, which is the active ingredient in most over-the-counter cough syrups, can cause major health problems, such as increased heart rate, fever and liver damage, when taken at sizzurp-levels, which can reach 25 times the recommended dose. Prescription-strength cough syrup even contributed to the 2008 death of rapper Pimp C, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office.

The FDA says that 8,000 emergency room visits in 2008 were caused by inappropriate use of cough syrup, both prescription and over-the-counter.  To combat the problem, the agency is meeting with a panel of experts on Sept. 14 and is considering an age requirement of 18 to buy over-the-counter syrup. That wouldn’t really help 29-year-old T.I., but it’s a start.