Jamaica Gleaner / Cough syrups, alcohol-laced gummy bears and ganja disguised in e-cigarettes are among the products being abused by Jamaican teens in their quest to get a high and relieve stress, but there are concerns that this might be placing their health and future development in jeopardy.
According to substance abuse officer at the National Council on Drug Abuse, Daniel Brown, the organisation has received several calls from school administrators in recent times wanting to refer students who have been caught on school grounds consuming a potentially fatal drug cocktail comprising sprite, jolly ranchers and cough syrup.
“About two months ago, we started to get referrals from schools, and then we have students who are talking about it,” Brown told The Sunday Gleaner .
The opiate-based cocktail, which is called ‘lean’, ‘purple drank’ and ‘sizzurp’, was made popular by hip hop trailblazer Lil Wayne, although it originated in Houston, Texas, in the 1990s.
‘Liquid heroin’ It is often referred to as the liquid version of heroin because of the euphoria experienced after consumption. This laid-back feeling is attributed to codeine in the cough syrup. Codeine is considered one of the world’s most utilised opioids.
“It looks like Kool-Aid, but it is not. There is a serious problem in the US now with it because one of the rappers who does it a lot is Lil Wayne, and he started having seizures from it,” noted Brown.
“Most of our students now are trying it and doing it. That leads to a different type of addiction, which is opioid addiction,” he said.
The United States is currently struggling to counter an opioid addiction epidemic, which is reported to have claimed at least 59,000 lives in 2016. US President Donald Trump was forced to declare the opioid crisis a public-health emergency in October as a scourge of drug addiction and abuse hit the country.
“No part of our society – not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural – has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” the president stated prior to making his declaration.
A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that the number of drug-overdose deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds rose 15 per cent for males from 2014 to 2015 and 35 per cent for females from 2013 to 2015.
With codeine found in most over-the-counter cough syrups sold locally, Brown feels that the current situation in the US is one Jamaicans should be paying attention to.
One 16-year-old student told The Sunday Gleaner that he experienced depression after trying the lean with his friends at the Corporate Area all-boys school he attends. He finds that it is very easy to become addicted.
“It is somewhat good in a certain sense, but on the other hand, it is also negative. Lean can be an antidepressant, but it can also help to cause depression,” he said.
“After you drink it, you will eventually go back to the same old feeling and you are going to be somewhat angry that it doesn’t last forever, so that will make you want to go back and do it,” he explained.
Describing himself as a huge fan of music, he said he and his friends tried it after hearing about it in hip hop songs. Coupled with that was the fact that he wanted a reliable stress reliever.
“I am somewhat always stressed out because of school and the pressure of passing subjects and not getting into trouble all the time,” he said.
He and his friends further researched the drug and decided to experiment.
“At first you are somewhat dizzy. You are not going to be aware of the effects at the same time, but over time, it can cause you to lose self-control. Based on the name, it literally dampens your walk, so you start walking a certain way, a funny way,” he said.
“After I drank it, I didn’t really stay around, I kind of left from that surrounding because it kind of knocked me out for a while. So I fell asleep for a while,” he said.
But lean is not the only thing school administrators and parents should be worried about. The youngster said his peers are finding even more creative ways to consume alcohol and take drugs. Gummy bear shots, in particular, are a big hit.
“The way they make it is that they take out the middle of the watermelon, dry it and then they throw the gummy bears in it and they add the alcohol to it and they let it settle, so the gummy bear soak up the alcohol,” he explain.
Brown found that school vendors were making ganja edibles, alcohol and e-cigarettes far more accessible to students.
“We need to screen the vendors that are at the school gates, because most of the time, because of the package that it is in, you wouldn’t even know,” he said.
Brown noted that e-cigarettes, for example, were being abused by students and are being purchased for between $350 and $1,800 to students.
One female student told The Sunday Gleaner that she has witnessed several of her classmates smoking it after purchasing it from stores near her school.
“Mostly in liquor stores they sell it, or pharmacies,” she said.
“One of my friends, I asked him what he gets out of it. He said it is just normal. It makes him feel a little better because he is a smoker, so when he can’t smoke the weed itself, he uses that to calm down,” she said.
Brown said some of the products are also being sold by other students to their peers.
“We have traditional drugs such as ganja, alcohol and tobacco, but if we are not careful, we are going to have more designer drugs coming to this nation,” he said.