Drank, the anti-energy drink sold at convenience stores, is generating concern among Dallas-area mental health experts who say it’s made to resemble popular illegal homemade cough syrup concoctions known as “purple drank.”
Representatives of several groups – including Mental Health America of Greater Dallas, the Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and the Texas Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition – discussed the carbonated beverage at a meeting of the Coalition on Mental Illness on Wednesday.
The groups plan to educate the public about the product and encourage retailers to stop selling it, said Janie Metzinger, public policy director of Mental Health America in Dallas.
Drank bills itself as an “Extreme Relaxation Beverage.” The sugary drink contains the hormone melatonin and the herb valerian root, and the can carries this warning: “This product may cause drowsiness. Not recommended more than 2 servings within a 24 hour period.”
Drank’s name and purple color mimic the “purple drank” cough syrup drink potion that has been mentioned in rap music, said Ronald Peters Jr., a behavioral science professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston who gave a presentation at Wednesday’s meeting in Dallas.
“They’re taking the name, and they’re trying to market it to young people,” he said. “They’re the worst thing I’ve ever seen on the street since the making of candy cigarettes.”
But the head of the company that makes the product said Drank does not promote illegal drug use.
“Drank did not invent the illicit street drug nor does its marketing campaign encourage anyone to try it,” said Peter Bianchi, chief executive of Innovative Beverage Group of Houston, in a written statement. “In fact, Drank was created as an alternative to drugs and alcohol, and remains a positive product to consume for relaxation.”
The illegal “purple drank” often contains codeine cough syrup mixed with Sprite and candy such as Jolly Ranchers. He said the Drank product could appeal to youths who will want to try the “real stuff.”
“If they’re drinking this, I’m telling you they know what purple stuff is,” he said.
Bianchi said he does not believe that Drank’s marketing entices young people to try the street drug combination of soda and cough medication. “Drank was created to be a mainstream product, appealing to a wide audience and prides itself on being a go-to beverage for professionals, stay-at-home parents, athletes, stressed students and anyone else looking for a way to relax,” he said.
Dallas-area addiction experts, who have seen increased numbers of youths abusing cough syrup in the past year or more, are concerned about Drank.
“It’s promoting the drug [purple drank],” said Michelle Hemm, director of Dallas programs for Phoenix House, a treatment center for youths. “They weren’t trying to disguise what they’re promoting.”
Janet Henson, manager of substance abuse services for the Dallas County Juvenile Department, said one youth with a can of Drank told her that he was trying to ease withdrawal symptoms from marijuana.
The 1 milligram of melatonin in Drank is enough to make someone sleepy – and fast because it’s already dissolved, said Dr. Gregory Carter, clinical associate professor of neurology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He said the valerian likely is not enough to have a strong effect.
“The danger of this is a quick hit in producing sedation and sleepiness, and the other thing would be if they mix it with alcohol,” Carter said. He said drinking it and then driving would be dangerous.
Youths may turn to Drank if they cannot get cough syrup, said Lisa Hinson, director of community relations for the Right Step, a Euless treatment center.
“I do believe it’s a gateway drug,” she said.
Two youths who have abused cough syrup – also known as “lean” – and are undergoing treatment at Phoenix House said they have tried Drank many times. Both requested that The News not use their last names for privacy.
“I drank it because it does advertising like lean,” said Joey, 15. He said he had already started using cough syrup when he tried Drank.
“I was a pretty big drug addict, and one of my main things was lean, so I wanted to see what it [Drank] was like,” he said.
Primo, a 16-year-old at Phoenix House, said his friends were talking about Drank. He wanted to try Drank to see if it would have similar effects to cough syrup. It didn’t.
“All it really did was make me tired and drowsy,” he said.
Both said that the drink might want to make people try cough syrup if they haven’t already.
“It might push someone to want to do it,” Joey said.