A codeine-laced soft drink popularized in hip-hop and rap music has been abused in the Twin Cities for more than 10 years, but authorities said a 14-year-old St. Paul girl's death Monday could be the area's first fatality from the concoction known as "purple drank."
Pauviera Linson was apparently given the drink, also known as "lean" and "dirty Sprite," at a birthday celebration Sunday in Burnsville, said family members and St. Paul police. A cousin found her in the family's St. Paul home about 9:45 a.m. Monday, on a bedspread with vomit in her mouth. She was pronounced dead as her 17-year-old friend, who also had consumed the drink, was transported to Regions Hospital.
Two men, ages 19 and 25, were arrested Tuesday in connection with the case. The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects until they are charged.
Linson's mother, Makiesha Johnson, described her daughter as a bright teen who wanted to be a fashion designer. Linson would've been a sophomore this fall at North High in North St. Paul.
"It's a bad dream," Johnson said. "When am I going to wake up?"
Linson's first cousin, Gerlaya Phillips, 12, said she was with Linson on Sunday. The two cousins and a friend, the 17-year-old girl, were picked up by three men Sunday afternoon, including the two who were arrested.
They went to a townhouse in Burnsville, where one of the arrested men was having a birthday celebration with about seven relatives, mostly older adults.
Police said the girls, who were familiar with the men, were given alcohol, marijuana and the codeine drink. Phillips said she abstained as the group drank in a living room and the adults hung out upstairs, occasionally passing by.
The three men took the girls home about 9 p.m. after Phillips' mother, Nancia Range, text-messaged Linson to come home. Linson lived with her aunt in the 200 block of Charles Avenue as her mother prepared a new house for the family.
About 9:25 p.m., Linson texted her mom: "I love you, mom."
Linson told Range, "I just need some air."
Linson sat on her cousin Gerald Phillips' bed. Her eyes were red, her eyelids droopy. He told her to lie down, that she and her friend could sleep in his bed because he'd be gone overnight. When he returned Monday morning, he knew something wasn't right.
He reached out and touched his cousin, the friend still asleep. "She was cold, and I knew," said Phillips, 18.
He ran out of the house, so frantic in his 911 call that neighbors had to step in and make separate calls to summon help. The friend was close behind, vomiting in the yard before she was whisked away to the hospital, where she was treated and released.
At her new house in St. Paul, Johnson was standing in what was to be her daughter's bedroom when her aunt called: They couldn't wake Pauviera.
"What do you mean you can't wake her up?" Johnson said. "Put her on the phone. I can wake her up!"
But then she knew, and she screamed into the empty room.
"I feel like they should go to prison and never get out," Johnson said of the men who were with her daughter.
She pleaded with young girls to resist peer pressure and to talk openly with their parents. "Be honest with your parents," she said. "And parents need to be open to listen."
"Purple drank" has been around since the 1990s, when a Houston record producer popularized it.
The drink is a mix of pop and prescription-only cough syrup that contains codeine. It gives users a calming euphoria similar to heroin, and can slow breathing to dangerous levels.
It's unclear how many people are treated in Minnesota for overdosing on it, but Dr. Jon Cole, an emergency room physician at Hennepin County Medical Center and medical director of Minnesota Poison Control, said it's not as common as treatment for so-called bath salts.
"It's kind of a niche drug of abuse," Cole said. "It's not super-common."
Carol Falkowski, drug abuse strategy officer at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said that although there have been codeine-related deaths in Minnesota, none so far has been specifically linked to "purple drank." Linson's death could be the first case, although autopsy results are pending.
Gerald Phillips said he's drunk it before, along with many people his age.
"I took my chances," he said. "I know I'll never do it again."
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib