Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Houston given unwanted 'City of Syrup' label


Houston has become known nationally as the "City of Syrup" because the abuse of codeine-fortified cough syrup among the city's youth is so widespread, a local researcher says.

The reputation is reflected in a trial that begins Tuesday of six pharmacists charged with illegally dispensing the highly addictive prescription cough syrup codeine with promethazine.
About 30 percent of the teenagers in the Houston area have used the syrup at least once, said Ron Peters, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

The figures from Peter's 2004 study top his 2003 study, which showed 25 percent of teenagers at six alternative schools in Harris County had used the drug at least once. Peters did not name the schools.

"Anything over 4 percent in the last 30 days is a major drug problem," Peters said.

Troy Jefferson, who heads a drug treatment center for children and adolescents at Riverside General Hospital in Houston, said those figures may be too conservative.

Jefferson said that, out of more than 5,000 teens treated at the clinic in the past seven years, as many as 35 percent had tried prescription cough syrup more than once.

Jury selection begins today in the retrial of pharmacists John David Wiley III, 40, and Anthony Dwayne Essett, 38, co-owners of I-10 East Pharmaceutical Services; Otukayode Adeleke Otufale, 44, owner of Med Stop Pharmacy; Isaac Simeon Achobe, 50, owner of American Choice Pharmacy; and Chicha Kazembe Combs, 29, and Andre Dion Brown, 37, co-owners of Mason Road Pharmacy in Katy.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner ordered the retrial after a jury in May was unable to reach a verdict.

The six are charged in a 170-count indictment of illegally dispensing thousands of gallons of the cough syrup and thousands of tablets of hydrocodone, a synthetic narcotic used as a painkiller. They also are charged with conspiracy and money laundering.

Rap music developed by a Houston record producer D.J. Screw reportedly promotes the drug known on the street as "syrup, lean, purple, syzurp, drank or purple jelly."

The producer, whose real name was Robert Earl Davis Jr., developed a slowed-down form of rap called "screwed." He died in 2000 of an overdose of the drug.

Peters said screwed music and the abuse of the cough syrup has spread nationwide and into Canada. The popularity has given Houston nicknames such as "City of Syrup and City of Lean," he said.

"Now, Houston is setting the trend for the drug culture and it is being spread through rap," he said. "This is something that is a major problem throughout the United States."


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