Lean, Dirty Sprite, Sizzurp, Active as some may call it, is a drink that has gained massive popularity amongst South African youth. While the dangerous mixture has been a fad in America for over 10 years, with Hip-Hop artists such as Future and Lil Wayne all rapping about it, locally it is gaining more prominence.
The drink made its South African TV debut on Emtee’s music video Corner Store where the rapper was seen mixing the cough syrup and Sprite concoction.
“It makes me relax, when I’m on lean, I feel calm and lazy. I don’t want to do anything but chill, ’’ says 20-year-old Nkosinathi Ndlovu*
Because of the sweet combination of cough syrup and cooldrink and its affordable price, Nkosinathi says Lean is appealing.
The 20-year old Rosebank College student started using lean when he was 17-years old. He now drinks lean every chance he gets.
“I use different kinds of cough mixtures because of their potency. The syrups I use vary from Stilpane to Expectalin, Goldgesic and sometimes Broncleer. Sometimes I mix the syrup with Sprite, sometimes Sparletta because of the taste you get from these different drinks,” he says.
“When I knock off from school, I meet up with my friends; we gather money and get two bottles of cough syrup and four 2 litre bottles of different flavoured cool drinks and we on,” says the Economics student.
At R25, Broncleer is one of the cheapest cough syrups and is the most abused over-the-counter medicine in South Africa.“Yes, I’m aware of the dangers but it’s hard to stop drinking lean,” says Nkosinathi.
“A large majority of people that live in the community I’m from [Hillbrow], drink cough syrup on a daily basis and every street corner you come across you bump into a Broncleer bottle,” he adds.
David, a marketing student at Rosebank college, has become dependent on Lean. He takes it every day, “When I don’t drink it, I don’t feel good about myself, everything feels tense and uneasy but the moment I sip some, my whole body just calms down. Man, I love the feeling.
“At first I wasn’t aware [of the dangers of Lean], because I thought it was harmless but as time went on I’d feel weak for no reason, especially when I drank alcohol and cough syrup at once. I’m aware of the dangers but it’s not easy trying to stop lean,” he says.
Regular use of lean can cause serious health issues. Commenting on Lil Wayne’s addiction, US doctor, George Fallieras cautioned that codeine is a respiratory depressant, and when taken in very large amounts, it can cause people to stop breathing.
Locally, it has not only been hip-hop artists who have been found to be abusing codeine. Kaizer Chiefs striker Kaizer Motaung Junior was admitted to the Sandton Medi Clinic for cough mixture abuse.
For the high-school student, it was peer pressure that led him to use Lean. “Most of my friends were doing it, I thought, why not? I could say peer pressure played a role as well as the fact that it was always there in the pictures of my favourite Hip-hop artists,” says the 16-year old New Gate High student.
“My friends and I use half a bottle of Stilpane cough syrup into 2 litres of Sprite. We only use half of the cough syrup because it is not as strong as using the full bottle of cough mixture,” he adds.
In the past 2 years, Adcock Ingram has taken precautions to help clamp down on Broncleer abuse, including introducing a different formula for the cough syrup. They reduced the alcohol content from 10% to 0.5%. But are these efforts in vain? As more and more young people find lean cool (and accessible), is there any hope of curbing this substance abuse?
Should you or a friend be addicted to lean, learn more about how you can get help here
*Names have been changed