Abuse beyond NFL
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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.
Dr. Matthew Prowler
July 20, 2010; 1:32 PM ET
Dr. Matthew Prowler
Substance Abuse Policy
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