In this music video, a rap group called Shoreline Mafia is seen partying in a kitchen with something you're more likely to find in your medicine cabinet. It's cough syrup, but it's not over-the-counter: it's a prescription.
Referred to as its street name "Purple Drank," "Dirty Sprite," or "Lean," this medicinal mixture isn't curing a cough; instead, young people are using it to get high.
Justin, a recovering lean addict at Tarzana Treatment Center, says, "It's extremely addictive once you do it. You just want to get another bottle and another bottle."
That addiction landed Justin and other young men at the treatment center, and they're all getting help for their dependency on Lean.
Lean is made up of the antihistamine Promethazine with the powerful opiate codeine. Michael Levine, Chief of Toxicology at USC's Keck School of Medicine, says that he's seen a rise among teens and young adults using that cough syrup cocktail.
"Just because something might be a prescription medication, if you are using it for something that's not prescribed to you, that is a drug," says Levine. "Abusing the drug for even a short period of time can cause serious effects, such as feelings of dizziness, blurred vision, nausea and even seizures." Levine says it can also lead to death.
The codeine craze has been well documented in the rap community. Lean, which was dubbed "Hip Hop's Heroine," is blamed for the overdose of several artists: DJ Screw in 2000, Pimp C in 2008, and more recently, rapper Lil' Wayne suffered a series of seizures. His apparent use of codeine and Lean has been well documented. These artists are influencing a much younger generation to consume it, too. Experts say after Lean exploded in popularity several years ago, it's now making a big comeback in the SoCal party scene.
That's where San Fernando Valley based rap group Shoreline Mafia gets much of their following. Emulating the likes of more famous rappers, Shoreline Mafia takes their love of lean to another level. In their music video (made to look like a home invasion robbery), masked suspects with guns pointed at victims are spliced together with shots of Lean.
When FOX 11 began investigating, our producers found videos all over social media showing everyone from the famous to their followers sipping syrup. It's usually mixed with soda and served in a double Styrofoam cup with sugary candy at the bottom to mask the taste. In one of the videos, an LA area DJ says he's about to overdose. Users say drinking the syrup-laced soda gives them the feeling of euphoria -- like riding a wave. But after a while, they say that feeling of floating just isn't satisfying enough.
Tiger, a recovering lean addict, says, "Once you start Lean you want to add more highs to it -- whether it's Adderall, whether it's Xanax, whether it's something, you just want to enhance."
And that's when experts say the drug becomes more deadly.
But sadly, young people aren't exposed to those realities. They're only watching their favorite artists build personas around Lean, marketing it through their music and social media.
Levine says, "When you have a conversation with your kids and you discuss, don't use drugs. It's easy for kids to associate drugs with hard street drugs like heroin or cocaine, but not necessarily view a medication as a drug."