Moe died on October 14, 2007 at 33-years-old, after suffering a heart attack one week earlier that left him in a coma. There was speculation that recreational codeine use in the form of Purple Drank may have contributed to his death.
Texas producer DJ Screw popularized the concoction, which is widely attributed as a source of inspiration for the “chopped and screwed” style of hip hop music. Originally, the active ingredient of “syrup” was cough syrup containing promethazine and codeine. The concoction first gained popularity in the underground rap scene in Houston, where musician Big Hawk said it was consumed as early as the 1960s and 1970s, becoming more widespread in the early 1990s. Its use later spread to other southern states. Because of usage by rap artists in Houston, it became more popular in the 1990s.
In June 2000, Three 6 Mafia’s single “Sippin’ on Some Syrup,” featuring UGK, brought the term “purple drank” to a nationwide audience. Three 6 Mafia’s single “Rainbow Colors” featuring Lil’ Flip pertains to the consumption of purple drank; the addition of a Jolly Rancher candy to a cup of purple drank creates a spectrum of colors, hence the name.
In 2004, the University of Texas found that 8.3% of secondary school students in Texas had taken codeine syrup to get high. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports “busts” involving syrup across the southern United States, particularly in Texas and Florida.
As of 2011, the price of purple drank in Houston is twice the price as it is in Los Angeles.
Notable deaths from use
Purple drank is confirmed or suspected to have caused the deaths of several prominent users. Respiratory depression is a potentially serious or fatal adverse drug reaction associated with the use of codeine, but mainly the danger lies in the much more potent and CNS-depressing phenothiazine-related antihistamine promethazine. This depression is dose-related and is the mechanism for the potentially fatal consequences of overdose: respiratory or cardiac arrest. As with most CNS depressants, mixing with alcohol greatly increases the risk of respiratory failure and other complications.
DJ Screw, who popularized the codeine-based drink, died of a codeine-promethazine-alcohol overdose on November 16, 2000, several months after the video to Three 6 Mafia’s single debuted.
Big Moe, a DJ Screw protégé whose albums City of Syrup and Purple World were based on the drink and who has been described as having “rapped obsessively about the drug,” died at age 33 on October 14, 2007, after suffering a heart attack one week earlier that left him in a coma. There was speculation that purple drank may have contributed to his death.
Pimp C, widely influential Port Arthur, Texas rapper and a member of rap duo UGK, was found dead on December 4, 2007, at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, California. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office reported that the rapper’s death was “due to promethazine/codeine effects and other unestablished factors.” Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Coroner’s Office, said the levels of the medication were elevated, but not enough to deem the death an overdose. However, Pimp C had a history of sleep apnea, a condition that causes one to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. A spokesman for the coroner’s office said that the combination of sleep apnea and cough medication probably suppressed Pimp C’s breathing long enough to bring on his death.
Other notable incidents
In September 2006, Terrence Kiel, a San Diego Chargers player, was arrested during practice for the possession with intent to sell prescription cough syrup for use in making the drink. Kiel was caught trying to ship a case of syrup to a friend via FedEx. Kiel was charged with two felony counts of transporting a controlled substance and three counts of possession for sale of a controlled substance.
On July 8, 2008, Johnny Jolly, a Green Bay Packers player, was pulled over in his car for excessive music. The officers found a Dr Pepper bottle in a holder next to two Styrofoam cups containing soda and ice. The officers said the cups and the bottle all emitted “strong odors of codeine.” The case was dismissed at first, but charges were refiled in December 2009 after the Houston Police Department’s acquired new equipment that allowed the police to test the evidence again. Jolly faced a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but as a first time offender he would be eligible for probation.
On July 5, 2010, former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested at his home in Mobile, Alabama, for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. He was arrested as part of an undercover narcotics investigation. Russell was booked into city jail and released soon afterwards after making his bail.
On March 15, 2013, Lil Wayne was hospitalized with seizures after a sizzurp binge.
On June 11, 2013, just days after being robbed at gunpoint in San Francisco, rapper 2 Chainz was arrested at Los Angeles international airport on charges of possessing marijuana and promethazine and codeine, the primary ingredients of purple drank