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Drank, The 'Extreme' Beverage


Some health officials, as we just discussed, may be trying to get chocolate milk out of the schools, but is it really any worse than what kids can buy at the local 7-11? Now, at many local convenient stores, alongside popular drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and Rock Star, you may see another product that touts the exact opposite effects of these energy boosting concoctions. Its called Drank and it claims to be quote the first extreme relaxation beverage.

Now, critics of Drank worry that it just isnt another beverage. First of all theyre concerned about the origins of the product. The term purple drank is slang for an illegal brew of codeine syrup and alcohol that is popular among some influential tastemakers in the Souths hip hop scene.

Joining us to talk more about this is Ronald J. Peters. He is an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. And he is an expert in codeine abuse. He also specializes in cultural and economic aspects of health behaviors in underserved communities. Welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.

Professor RONALD J. PETERS (University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, Professor Peters, how did you hear about Drank?

Prof. PETERS: Well, one of the things, with my research, I try to do is actually just listen to music. And when you listen to music, you find out what kids are interested in. So, listening to a very innovative form of hip-hop music called Screw music that was started here by DJ Screw. I found that a lot of kids in the South were had high social approval for codeine, promethazine abuse.

So, we started doing research on the social norms of this particular (unintelligible) in the beliefs of kids around this particular substance.

MARTIN: And why do they like it? What does it do to them?

Prof. PETERS: Well, its three things. You have three different basic substances in codeine promethazine. You have alcohol, you have antihistamine, which all us have obviously taken before, it makes us drowsy. And then you have the actual codeine in it. Because of the hip-hop music being so popular, this particular trend diffused throughout, literally, in the United States and it has high social approval even in other parts - when you get on the Internet, at least on blogs all over the world.

MARTIN: Okay, well just take a listen to a little piece of the kind of music Professor Peters is talking about. This is Project Pat singing That Drink.

(Soundbite of song, That Drink)

PROJECT PAT (Singer): (Singing) Sipping on some purple, Ima call it yurple. Leaning to the sizzide, cool like Im Erckle. Weed got me percule, yes tight like girdle cruising through the hood slow, something like a turtle. Strapped

MARTIN: Okay, so, I think you get the point. But its important to make one distinction. Theyre singing about purple drank, which is an illegal substance mixing codeine and alcohol and now what we want to talk about is a legal product and what we emphasize is a legal product called Drank. And I do want to mention that we extended an invitation to Peter Bianchi. He is the founder and CEO of Innovative Beverage Group, which is a Houston based drink distributor and maker of Drank. He declined our request to join our conversation. He sent a statement which Ill read to you in just a few minutes.

But, Drank contains ingredients like Valerian root, rose hips and melatonin. And it invites users to quote slow your roll after a hectic day. Do you have any concerns about this product?

Prof. PETERS: Absolutely, you know, this is the worst thing Ive seen on a market since candy cigarettes. In fact, its worse. Both codeine, promethazine and this particular Valerian root and melatonin, it have issues of insomnia, sleepiness and issues of kids, in particularly, not being alert. Now again, it doesnt have the same euphoric effect as codeine or alcohol, but they have dosages of this particular concoction that could lead to kids having, obviously, daytime drowsiness in school - operating a motor vehicle is a same thing with codeine, promethazine. Were more concerned about the kids, when they get in cars after parties and so forth. And when you have this substance its doing some of the issues making kids sleepy.

MARTIN: Let me just read the statement from Peter Bianchi, who is the CEO and the founder of the company thats making and distributing this product. And well have the statement on our Web site. Just go to Click on Programs, go to TELL ME MORE and well put his statement up in its entirety. But I just read you the first paragraph.

He says, we live in a high-paced world and that, coupled with the current economic conditions that we are in, has created a society that is incredibly high-strung and stressed out. This is made worse by the way that we have all been spoon-fed energy drinks, for years, to help speed us up. I saw all of this and realized that there was a need in the marketplace for something that will help us relax, de-stress, and as we like to say, slow our roll. And hes trademarked that phrase. So, using calming ingredients of melatonin, valerian root, and rose hips, mixed with a great grape flavor and light fizz, I created Drank - hes trademarked that - the first extreme relaxation beverage.

And so, it sounds to me like what he is saying is this is for adults who are stressed out. You dont buy that. You dont think that (unintelligible) going to buy that.

Prof. PETERS: Sure, he said, this is for professionals and so forth, that he states in on the Web site, but you know, how come he called it Drank. Thats what kids called codeine promethazine. How come its purple? How come its actually giving some of the same effects as codeine promethazine? This is not something, I think, thats targeted towards adults, but the hip-hop culture is being prostituted, in my opinion. They trademark some of these different slang words that are common terms in the streets and then use it for profit.

MARTIN: Well, what would be the appeal of it? I mean, I understand that Red Bull has become very mainstream for, you know, you see students drinking it who have term papers to finish, you know, is not uncommon around here, for people who particularly have to work odd shifts when one will see a can of Red Bull from time to time. So, who would want this other anti - what is it, whatever they say extreme relaxation concoction. Why would you want that? In fact and then in the hip-hop literature songs that youve have monitored, how was it promoted? Whats the appeal?

Prof. PETERS: Well, appeal is, again, its something that people are proud of. Houston music - this was something that put Houston on a map. So, theres a lot of high social approval for it. You dont look crazy when youre drinking codeine promethazine, youre looked at as being, as they call it, a player potion, so to say, or being cool. And so the issue with this is theres a lot of kids that dont know better. Theres a these are gateway kids. For the kids that are drinking this, they look at this as being silly - that are drinking in codeine, promethazine.

But for the kids that dont know what purple stuff is, that had heard it in a song, that had heard it in their communities, they pick this stuff up. If you look on blogs on the Internet, there question after question, what is purple stuff? You know, how do you make purple stuff? And so, again, they would go ahead, take this particular substance and drink it and it could be a gateway to the real thing. Everybody wants the real thing. When they find out that they had been, so to say, bamboozled then they will quest, some of us will quest to get the right thing.

I was talking to a parent the other day. And their kid picked this up out of one of the convenient stores. And she said, what is that? He replied, grape soda - just grape soda. And then when she found that this was actually drugs that were put in this, that were literally sleeping agents, she was just so disappointed in herself that she didnt do the research before her kid started drinking this everyday, literally. So, Im concerned about the parents who dont have knowledge of this. Im concerned about the kids that have access to this near communities and theyre taking this to have a cool image and it effects them long term.

MARTIN: And its certainly available. Seven-Eleven has informed us that it is available in approximately 1500 of their 5800 stores in the U.S. are carrying the item. They say it is a recommended item. But the majority of their stores are operated by franchisees, and they can choose to carry it or not. They say the item is selling well, with the highest sales in the Dallas, Fort Worth area. So Professor Peters, youve made it clear youre not pleased. What do you think people should do now, if they have

Prof. PETERS: Well

MARTIN: if they share your concerns?

Prof. PETERS: The major thing I want to state is that see, we spent a lot of time getting this codeine promethazine, as far as with getting it off the streets and making it less accessible to kids over the last 10 years. The prices went up from a bottle - that went up from $120 to $325 a bottle. And Im concerned now, that all of the work that weve done, you know, they could prostitute, again, all of the hip hop music to go ahead and create something else thats bad for kids.

And so, I think, we should gather, if we do have concerns, in particular in Texas or in the Southern states - we need to go ahead and rally and have some socio-political action where we can get this stuff out of the stores.

MARTIN: Ronald Peters is an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He was kind enough to join us from the studios of KUHF in Houston, Texas. And I want to emphasize once again that we did reach out to Peter Bianchi, the founder and the CEO of Innovative Beverage Group, which makes and distributes Drank, and he declined to join us. Well have a statement from him on our Web site if you care to read it. Professor Peters, thank you so much for joining us.

Prof. PETERS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And thats our program for today.

Im Michel Martin. And this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Lets talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.