'We get them online for 40p': Warning over 'dangerous fake' anti-anxiety drugs
Article By: Noel Phillips
Article By: Noel Phillips
Counterfeit versions of benzodiazepines such as Xanax are circulating on the dark web
There is concern about a rising number of "dangerous fake" illicit drugs being sold as benzodiazepines, Public Health England says.
PHE recently issued a rare national alert to healthcare providers about the availability of fake pills being sold as benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and diazepam, where the drug has been linked to overdoses and deaths.
Last month, Avon and Somerset Constabulary issued a warning to parents in Bristol after a young person overdosed on a substance similar to Xanax.
The powerful tranquiliser is used to treat anxiety and panic attacks.
Experts say despite warnings, its illegal use among young people appears to be growing.
There have been reports of children as young as 11 being treated for abusing the painkiller.
It is not available on the NHS but can be obtained on private prescription in the UK.
Counterfeit versions of the class C drug often circulate on the dark web, and across the country police forces are warning of the dangers of misusing the drug.
Sky News has discovered potentially fake Xanax being offered for sale on social media for as little as £1.
"At one point we were taking 10 to 20 a day minimum for months on end, but we managed to kick that, it's not like that anymore," said Jake.
The 18-year-old, who lives in Bristol, began using Xanax two years ago while at school, and later became addicted to it.
He and his friend Simon, also 18, now use the drug with cocaine to get their high.
"When we do it now, we take it with coke. If we do coke, say twice a week, we each do three afterwards so that adds up to six," said Simon.
When challenged about the dangers they are exposing themselves to, they said: "Yes, you can die."
Felicite Tomlinson, the sister of One Direction star Louis Tomlinson, was found dead with the sedative and other drugs in her system in 2019, an inquest heard.
The drug is particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol and other drugs.
"We got them online for like 30 to 40p for a single pill instead of like £2 or £2.50. It's not hard to get it on the dark web," said Jake.
Simon added: "That's what makes them so cheap. We have now managed to find a plug [a street dealer] and he presses it himself. He's got a pressing machine and he makes it himself."
The teenagers say the drug is prevalent in their friendship circle. They say their addiction to the drug began at the age of 15.
"I've been using it two to three years. I did it for the first time in Year 10," said Simon.
"Everyone around our age and younger are taking it."
According to Public Health England, Xanax has a similar effect to Valium but is 10 times stronger.
"At the moment I think it's fair to say if you're buying Xanax from the street or even if you're buying it from the dark web online the drug that you're buying is probably not the chemical that you thought it was going to be," said Harry Sumnall, a professor in substance use at the Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moores University.
Professor Sumnall added: "If we look at some of the treatment data that Public Health England have published, over the last couple of years there has been a 300% increase in the number of young people presenting to services needing support for a range of benzodiazepine drugs including Xanax."
Katie's 18-year-old son is still in recovery after being addicted to Xanax. It was the ease of acquiring the drug that concerned her.
"I know that people are still ending up in hospital from taking it. I think it's the most scary thing. It turned my son into a monster. He was abusive and aggressive," she said.
"My son was taking Xanax for months and months before the actual overdose incident.
"The message I really want to get across is that if you have a child who always seem sleepy or their behaviour has changed, and they are moodier, it won't just be nothing."
Pfizer, the company that developed Xanax as a prescription drug, said "counterfeit medicines are a matter of patient health and safety".
It said: "We are alarmed by the rise of counterfeit Xanax and the claims of misuse among young people.
"Our aim is to help detect, disrupt and deter illegal counterfeit medicines. We are working with governments, regulators, police, and customs around the world to warn people about the dangers of buying online and to catch the criminals responsible."
It added: "Xanax, as a controlled medicine in the UK, is subject to strict regulations and must be prescribed appropriately by a qualified healthcare practitioner."