Much Ado About Sizzurp

Rapper Lil Wayne's seizures and hospitalization highlight a double standard in hustler culture. Crack cocaine and heroin users are considered junkies. Meanwhile codeine "sizzurp" and pills are less stigmatized, but not necessarily any more benign.
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Details about Lil Wayne's medical condition are scant. And while he tweeted, "I'm good everybody. Thx for the prayers and love," after TMZ depicted him practically on his deathbed over the weekend, he reportedly remained hospitalized on Monday after suffering yet another debilitating seizure. Doctors may have found codeine in his system, prompting TMZ to report that his seizure was the result of a drug binge. That "Weezy" would have codeine in him shouldn't come as a surprise. The rapper has professed his love for the drug in multiple public venues -- in the form of "sizzurp," which usually involves prescription cough syrup (codeine is an opiate that requires a prescription) mixed with soda and sometimes hard candy, like Jolly Ranchers.

RTR324GJthumb.jpgAndrew Innerarity/Reuters

Opiate withdrawal doesn't typically result in seizures, but codeine cough syrup frequently comes paired with promethazine, a sedative-type drug that can lower the seizure threshold in users, making those prone to seizures more likely to have them. Even more so when it's paired with narcotics. Syrup drinkers also frequently combine the drug with Xanax or other benzodiazepines (Lil Wayne has rapped about his struggles with Xanax as well) whose withdrawal syndrome can cause seizures. When syrup is taken with benzo pills the combo is called "pancakes and syrup" on the streets. Both promethazine and Xanax when taken with codeine syrup boost the otherwise mild narcotic's effects into the heroin-range of intoxication. Lil Wayne hasn't confirmed that his most recent seizure had any connection to his drug use; he's reportedly been prescribed seizure medication in the past, but whether he's actually diagnosed with epilepsy is unconfirmed.

Sizzurp, or "purple drank," or "water," depending on the part of the country in which one cops it, has for years been a drug of choice for inner city dealers of drugs like crack and heroin. In the hustling culture that produced Lil Wayne, with which he self-identifies, one's street reputation as being reliable with money is paramount to conducting business. Lower level dealers often get packages of drugs fronted to them on credit, and coming up short on money to repay upper level traffickers for their fronted drugs can result in grievous physical injury and death. Nothing does more damage to a hustler's business prospects than word spreading on the street that they're a crackhead or dopefiend, as it's taken as gospel that addicts can't be trusted with money, and worse, might snitch their whole crew to the narc squad. So hustlers tend to avoid stigmatized "hard" drugs like cocaine and heroin that are strictly commodities for sale.

Just because you don't smoke the crack you sell doesn't mean you might not suffer worse consequences if you're eating Xanax like a full-time job.

However, this doesn't mean that hustlers don't party. Urine drug test results in probation departments around the country substantiate claims to the contrary. An analysis of Philadelphia's probation department drug test results for 2012 show that 31 percent of the nearly 70,000 total tests taken were positive for some illicit substance. Marijuana was the drug of choice, accounting for 55 percent of positive results. Opiates like codeine syrup and benzodiazepine pills accounted for 20 and 19 percent of the total positive results, respectively. So hustlers, in this case the lower level drug sellers comprising the bulk of Philladelphia's county probation population, are getting high with some regularity.

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Jeff Deeney is a social worker and writer based in Philadelphia. His work has also appeared in Newsweek, and he is columnist at The Fix

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