- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

The popularity of a concoction containing NyQuil and soda — which sickened six middle school students in Montgomery County last week — provides evidence for a growing trend of recreational opioid use in Maryland, officials say.

Christopher Garrett, director of communications for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that while “Purple Drank” and similar beverages are not a widespread issue, they fit into a larger climate of drug abuse across the state.

“The epidemic of opioid use in Maryland is grim, and we are concerned about any patterns of use of illicit substances among youth,” Mr. Garrett said.

Purple Drank, a recreational concoction also known as “Lean” or “Sizzurp,” was first used by the Houston hip hop and rap community in the late 1990s, and has grown in popularity since, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Music artists such as Lil Wayne, Three 6 Mafia and Soulja Boy made public their use of the beverage, promoting and referencing it in their work.

The mixture consists of prescription cold medication, soda and candy. The drink traditionally obtains its purple color from promethazine codeine-based cough syrup, but since the removal of this product from the market in April 2014, drug users have become creative in their substitutions.

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Six students at Francis Scott Key Middle School in Silver Spring were hospitalized last Friday after drinking a mixture of NyQuil, Sprite and Jolly Ranchers candy, authorities said. Rescue crews were called to the school after several of the students experienced respiratory distress, in addition to feelings of euphoria and relaxation brought on by the mixture.

The students have since recovered, said Montgomery County Police Officer Rick Goodale.

“The students did not suffer life-threatening or serious injuries and were taken to a local hospital to be monitored due to what they ingested,” Officer Goodale said.

According to Narconon, the mixture, when consumed regularly, can become addictive and cause adverse health effects, even death.

Eddie Atkins, program director for Riverside Treatment Center in the District, told WTTG that officials have seen more cases involving these drinks, which are easier to acquire than marijuana and prescription pills, and do not show up in drug tests.

Maryland’s Department of Health and Wellness found that 11,242 emergency room visits were alcohol or drug-related in 2014, a 37.5 percent increase since 2008. Those statistics are believed to have increased since then, the agency said.

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