Four Thanet teenagers ended up in hospital after taking an anxiety drug -possibly a counterfeit version – that has been linked to more than 200 UK deaths since 2015.
The 17-year-old boys met up with a dealer in Ellington Park, Ramsgate, and bought ten Xanax tablets on October 13.
Hours later all had been taken to hospital with symptoms including being unable to stand or talk.
The drug is used to treat anxiety and panic attacks and is a powerful tranquilizer with 20 times the potency of Diazepam.
Although widely prescribed in America it is not available on the NHS in the UK but can be obtained by private prescription. The presription drug is subect to strict regulations but there is a growing problem of counterfeit Xanax, bought on the dark web or through dealers who often group text ‘special offers’ to users and potential users.
This is particularly dangerous because counterfeits may contain variable amounts of alprazolam, making it hard for drug users to decide how much to take. Counterfeit Xanax has also been shown to sometimes contain other drugs and/or potentially dangerous adulterants.
The drug is a class c benzodiazepine, which has seen growing usage. Across the UK there were 315 young people who needed help with abuse of benzodiazepines in 2017-18, almost double the number in 2016-17 of 161.
Alprazolam (Xanax) was the benzodiazepine which saw the biggest increase from 8 in 2016 to 2017 to 53 in 2017 to 2018.
The side effects can include drowsiness, slurred speech, lack of balance and memory problems. The issue of illegal dealing is exacerbated by the low cost with tablets being sold for as little as £1.50 for 1mg.
‘Unable to stand, walk or talk’
An adult connected to one of the boys said: “They took them at about 12.30pm and at 6pm we had a phone call to say our boy could not stand, walk or talk. He was by Tesco at St Lawrence. We took him straight to hospital and one of his friends was already there in quite a bad way.
“A couple of hours later the other two boys turned up.
“The first two were put on drips and given anti-nausea tablets. The third went home and the other one refused treatment.
“Our boy took more than two days to get over it.”
The incident was reported to police and a name given for the dealer. But the man says he was told an arrest couldn’t be made although police would ‘tag’ the culprit so he could be searched if officers spotted him.
The man added: “I went to the police because I want him prosecuted, someone could die next time.”
Kent Police say enquiries are ongoing.
A spokesperson for the Force said: “Kent Police received a report that a class C drug was supplied to four teenage boys in Ramsgate on Sunday, October 13.
The children are not reported to have fallen seriously ill but did receive hospital treatment.
“Officers have spoken with each of the boys, and several appropriate adults, and have provided safety advice.
“Enquiries to establish the full circumstances are ongoing and, at present, no arrests have been made.”
Public Health England says although there is little evidence of Xanax use being an ‘epidemic’ instances are on the rise.
The PHE says UK police seizures data showed that the number of alprazolam seizures was far greater in 2017 than in previous years, increasing from fewer than ten seizures in 2016 to over 800 in 2017.
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