“It’s worse than crack. They should have a detox center for these things, too.”
~A Baltimore resident referring to the city’s Newport cigarette addiction
I vividly remember the crack epidemic that ravaged through D.C. starting in the mid to late 80s and the damaging effects that followed after during the mid 90s, as babies who were born to crack addicted mothers began to start school. I would eventually provide services for these children and their mothers at a drug treatment clinic in southeast Washington, D.C. As the mothers tried to stop using drugs, they often picked up another addiction: nicotine.
A recent study conducted in Baltimore revealed that more than half of poor, black young adults smoke cigarettes — almost always menthol, almost always Newports. The study also found that nearly one in four of them also smoke candy-flavored cigarillos, often inhaling despite the danger posed by higher tar and nicotine levels. Cigarillos are Black and Milds, that are plastic-tipped in flavors such as wine, cream and apple. An article in the New York Times states that cigarillos are often seen in hip-hop videos and the HBO series “The Wire,” which is set in Baltimore.
In this latest study, researchers interviewed 160 blacks ages 18 to 24 who were enrolled in job training. Of the group, 60 percent smoked cigarettes and 24 percent had recently smoked cigarillos.
A 17 year old youth who spoke at a hearing on this subject said she had started smoking Black and Milds at 15 and now smoked several a day, inhaling: “If you smoke the wine flavor, it gives you a buzz, ” also adding that if she goes too long without, “I get light-headed.”
Smoking may not be as much of a concern as using drugs such as marijuana, but Baltimore’s health commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein says, “If you take a step back, it’s the smoking that will end up killing a lot of these kids, maybe not next week but well ahead of their time.”
What has become common in Baltimore and other urban cities is the selling of “loosies”, selling loose Newport cigarettes to those who do not have $4.50 to buy a pack. The article states that out-of-package sales are common in the poor areas of many cities, an adaptation to meager, erratic incomes and rising cigarette taxes.
In a stepped-up antismoking campaign, Baltimore officials are offering free nicotine patches or gum and are considering stronger measures to control the sales of loosies, which are easily available to youth.
'Sippin On Some Sizzurp'
Another drug that is popular among youth, particularly in the South, is “Drank”, which is codeine laced cough syrup. I remember some years ago a rap song called ‘Sippin' on Some Sizzurp’ by the rap group Three Six Mafia. Oh great, I thought, now the kids are going to experiment and drink this potentially lethal cocktail, which is mixed with a combination of candy, soda and ice. Although drinking cough syrup has been documented as a drug habit since the 1960s, 'drank' became popular once the hip hop community glorified it. There's even instructions on how to make it on the internet.
In the Houston Chronicle article, Rappers Death Highlights Syrup-Fueled Lifestyle, it cites that codeine-laced cough syrup has enjoyed a resurgence with the popularity of Screw music, a distinctive sound of rap from Houston. Screw artists such as Big Moe, born Kenneth Moore, praised it for its euphoric effects, the remedy to a hard-knock life.
Big Moe is now dead at the age of 33.
The article states that his fans and friends are now wondering whether cough syrup abuse may have been a factor that led to his death last week. The rapper immortalized Purple Drank, Lean, Sizzurp — monikers for the cough suppressant containing promethazine and codeine — in songs and drank the stuff for years.
In a 2002 study, researchers have found that codeine-laced cough syrup is a growing public health problem for black teens. A Houston youth drug counselor stated that nearly 50 percent of his juvenile drug addicts drink cough syrup, using it in deadly combinations: They dip marijuana joints and cigarillos in it.
The article also cites the story of 16 year old Terrence. He started drinking the drug because he grew up without knowing his father, a pain that haunted him, he said, since he was a kid. He supported his habit by burglarizing homes in tony Bellaire, who estimates that he has spent nearly $4,000 of stolen money on cough syrup.
"It's just a matter of time before we see the long-term effects, when these kids start turning 30, and they all of a sudden need kidney transplants," the youth counselor said.
Al D., a Houston rapper, is quoted in the article as saying:
"When I was drinking Drank, I wasn't thinking about what it could be doing to my health. We chose the wrong thing to deal with…kids be looking at us, listening to our music thinking that they got to be drinking to be listening to our music, and we don't want them to do that."