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Cough Syrup & Soda: A Dangerous Concoction Making Milwaukeeans 'Lean'


Call it what you will: sizzurp, purple drank or lean. They’re all the same. The cough syrup mixture has been a popular drug in some circles for decades, and it’s making a resurgence here in Milwaukee.

The substance is the subject of an article in this month's Milwaukee Magazine, written by freelancer Eben Pindyck. 

"It's a concoction of soda, typically, or some sort of sweetener, and prescription cough syrup, which users take a lot of and get high," says Pindyck. "The active ingredients are codeine, which is an opiate, and promethazine, which is an antihistamine." 

Promethazine-codeine cough syrup is commonly prescribed for a myriad of issues, including the common cold, which makes it easily available. Still, Pindyck says a bottle can go for more than $1,000 on the street. 

'Lean', like other opiates, is addictive, but it's decidedly less potent than drugs like heroin. While the cough syrup drink lacks the same intensity as other opioids, it can still be deadly. 

"It doesn't result in as many trips to the emergency room as heroin or prescription opioids, which are abused. But it is abused, and it can be a problem, and you know, people get hooked and it can be fatal," Pindyck says. 

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.