The League

Dr. Matthew Prowler
Resident Psychiatrist

Dr. Matthew Prowler

Resident Psychiatrist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Abuse beyond NFL


Make no mistake -- "Purple drank" is not a performance-enhancing drug.

You could think otherwise, given the recent examples of NFL player abuse of the syrupy concoction.

But JaMarcus Russell and Johnny Jolly's arrests with un-prescribed codeine (a key "drank" ingredient) occurred in off-seasons - far from the gridiron. Both await trials.

So what is it?

"Purple drank" commonly refers to a combination of codeine, promethazine, soda and hard candy.

Codeine is a prescription opiate (with lower potency than morphine or oxycodone), that is FDA-approved for pain management and cough, and is commonly combined with Tylenol, for pain or promethazine, as cough syrup.

Promethazine is a strong antihistamine that is used as a sedative, as well as for the treatment of allergies, nausea, and motion-sickness. It also blocks dopamine and other central nervous system receptors, which may cause disorientation and lightheadedness.

So why abuse it?

When combined with codeine, the effect can be a drowsy, drunken euphoria.

And is this an NFL-specific problem?


This past week, The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released preliminary findings from a federal government-funded substance abuse study.

The report states that from 1998 to 2008, admissions to U.S. treatment centers for abuse of 'other opiates' - a category that includes oxycodone, methadone, and codeine - have increased more than 400 percent.

And while the highest rates were seen in the South and Northeast regions of the country, the pattern was nationwide.

In Jolly's case, the NFL, like law enforcement, was quick to take punitive action.

But from a public health standpoint, punishment is not enough.

The daunting challenge for mental health fields is how to better prevent and treat prescription drug abuse in the first place.

One idea is stricter physician prescriptions of controlled substances. Another is increased youth education regarding the risks of abuse and providing kids with alternative social outlets.

And once someone is addicted, there are effective treatments, such as support groups, individual therapy, and medications that reduce drug craving without causing intoxication.

But right now, the numbers are going in the wrong direction, and the trend needs to stop.

In this hot off-season of purple drank fame, athletes, like our kids, would be better off sticking with the lemonade.

By Dr. Matthew Prowler  |  July 20, 2010; 1:32 PM ET  | Category:  Dr. Matthew Prowler , NFL , NFL Rules , Substance Abuse Policy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Southern 'sizzurp' gaining in popularity | Next: Codeine concoction a serious issue


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It's already hard enough to get these drugs legally as I know from taking oxycontin for pain due to wounds suffered in Vietnam. why is it that when some idiots abuse a drug they just make it harder for those who really need it to get it without jumping through hoops. witness the epinephrine problem now you have to show a license just to buy cold medicine. Have we gone insane

Posted by: ease99 | July 23, 2010 12:21 PM

I agree with ease99. When I've gone to the doctor with crippling pain, I could barely get anything stronger than motrin 800 or tylenol 3-- both pure candy. I think I got percocet once. Sometimes I'm just told to suck it up. What, they think I'm a candidate for addiction? The abusers make it harder for everyone.

Posted by: forgetthis | July 23, 2010 2:26 PM

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