Over-the-counter cough medicine is causing concern for health practitioners who are seeing more young Canadians use the drug in a dangerous concoction.

Known as ‘sizzurp’, the drink’s main ingredient is prescription-strength cough syrup, containing codeine and promethazine, that’s mixed with fruit juice or soda.

The drink, also known as purple drank or syrup, originated in Houston and is linked to the city’s hip-hop scene.

The drink has been referenced by a number of rappers in music lyrics, including Lil Wayne, who was recently hospitalized after suffering seizures. The seizures were rumoured to be related to sizzurp after doctors found a high amount of codeine in his system, though Lil Wayne later said he suffered from epilepsy.

Seth Fletcher of the Council on Drug Abuse (CODA) says the codeine from the cough medicine blocks pain signals and slows the central nervous system, while the promethazine results in a drowsy effect.

Fletcher told CTV’s Canada AM that codeine is related to the same highly-addictive opiate family as heroin.

“When you start misusing (cough remedies), their effects can be quite dangerous in that it depresses your respiratory system and the sedative effects can be dangerous,” he said.

Fletcher said while prescription codeine is expensive and more difficult to acquire, a higher number of young Canadians are misusing over-the-counter cough syrup instead.

“Youth don’t have the accessibility to prescription cough medicine, but what they do have is over-the-counter cough medicine,” he said. “Sometimes, they don’t realize the active ingredient is different.”

Fletcher said the dextromethorphan, known as DXM, in the over-the-counter cough medicine can lead to a feeling of euphoria, blurred vision, numbness and muscle spasms. He added that over time it can cause liver damage, hallucinations and anxiety.

He said more education is needed to curb the abuse of cough syrup.

A 2013-2011 survey conducted by CODA showed more than 14 per cent of Grade 7, 8, and 9 students, mainly in Ontario, were aware of the effects of DXM. Of those surveyed, more than six per cent said they would likely try sizzurp in the next 12 months.