Instagram Provides an Illegal Market for “Lean”

Instagram Provides an Illegal Market for “Lean”

January 16th, 2014

Promethazine/codeine cough syrup, is a phenothiazine antihistamine and opioid medication used for pain. The cough syrup is usually prescribed to patients who are experiencing mild to moderate pain from continuous coughing or allergic reactions. Common side effect include constipation, drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness, dry mouth or nose, headache, nausea, and/or vomiting. Seems like something to avoid at all costs; however, for many users looking to get high, that is not the case.

Prescription cough syrup is becoming increasing more popular for recreational use in a mixed drink called “lean” or “drank.” The term “lean” comes from the leaning sensation the user feels when they are sitting or standing upright. Lean is a combination of promethazine/codeine syrup, original Sprite soda, and Jolly Ranchers for flavoring. Originating in Houston Texas, lean has created a profitable black market in the United States.

Responsible for the euphoric high, Codeine dosing information recommends 5 mL every six hours, or a maximum of 30 mL a day. Recreational users can end up drinking double, even triple that amount in one sitting. Many enjoy the sensations created by promethazine, which is known to cause impaired motor skills, extreme sense of drowsiness, and a disconnected feeling from the body.

Instagram, a popular social media website, is now the new open market for the illegal buying and selling of lean. Fletcher Babb, author of “Lean on Me: Emoji Death Threats and Instagram’s Codeine Kingpin” writes that instagram is “where hundreds of accounts are selling lean, weed, and a variety of prescription pills in a virtual open-air drug market.” Similar to the notorious illegal website, Silk Road, lean on instagram has become a danger, not only for the people selling the drug, but the buyers themselves.

Almost 2.85 million pints of Actavis, the top selling brand of promethazine/codeine cough syrup, have been sold over instagram. The popularity of lean stems from well known rappers like DJ Screw, Lil Wayne, Chief Keef and many more, who make multiple references to lean in their highly produced rap songs. “It’s more popular in rap music than I’ve ever seen it before,” exclaims Houston-raised rapper Fat Tony.

Prices for lean on instagram vary, ranging from $250 to $500 a pint on the West Coast. On the South side of the United States, prices have skyrocketed. In Houston and Atlanta prices range from $1,000 to $1,200 and can easily go up if the supply is low and the demand is high. For most people, a pint is a huge amount that takes a considerable amount of time to finish, but a customary lean drinker can finish a pint in only a week. That’s 67.5 mL a day! Over twice the recommended maximum dosage.

In August 2008, the FDA recommended the banning of painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet. USA Today, in their “DEA warns of soft drink-cough syrup mix” article states that “police, federal drug agents and public health analysts from Texas to Florida say the abuse and illegal sale of codeine syrup is rising and is part of the much larger problem of prescription drug abuse.” If something is not done soon to stop the illegal buying and selling of promethazine/codeine cough syrup, it could be next on the list of abused substances to get banned.

Lean on instagram is dangerous and overdosing on this prescription cough syrup can be fatal. If a person ingests too much codeine, the Central Nervous System can become depressed, stopping the heart and lungs altogether. To end this increasing problem, law enforcement and the DEA are strongly urging parents and friends to talk to their loved ones about the potential risks, and how abusing this dangerous syrup is not worth it.

-Madison O’Connell, Editorial Intern


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