Xanax: All the rage?

An impartial overview of this much-discussed drug.

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person inserting pill into mouth

Xanax (Alprazolam) is a prescription drug that is not available on the NHS. It is a very powerful Benzodiazepine that is used to treat anxiety and is highly addictive, with 1mg of Xanax having the equivalent potency of 10mg of diazepam; the closest prescribable medication available on the NHS.

There has been a recent increase in people buying 'street benzos' both in-person from dealers and online. These are fake and illicit drugs that are being manufactured in people's cellars, attic rooms, and other unknown locations and are made to look like the real thing. The fake pills can be extremely convincing, with packaging and even information leaflets appearing to look like a legitimate form of MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approved medication.

'Street benzos' are being manufactured in people's cellars or attic rooms and, despite the packaging and patient information leaflets looking very realistic, they have been found to contain harmful substances known as 'research chemicals' which are causing hospitalisations and deaths.

  • Flualprazolam - one of the most widely used and can take up to 40 minutes to see an effect, with the peak being reached after around 2 hours. This gradual effect often leads to users increasing the dose before the tablet is fully effective so can lead to overdose. The tablets also have a 5-8 hour duration so users may decide to re-dose before they actually need to, also increasing the risk of overdose.
  • Flubromazolam - more dangerous due to the long-life duration of 12-18 hours, however less common. It can cause users can go to sleep, wake up the next day, use again and overdose. Users who use daily are constantly pushing overdose due to the accumulation in their bodies.

Recently these fake Xanax bars are known to have been sold in Sheffield as "Green Hulk", also available in dark red and blue (originally to denote strength and release rate - but this can be highly inaccurate due to varying and unknown ingredients).

Why might students seek to use these?

  • Struggling with anxiety during exam periods/coursework deadlines.
  • The knee-jerk reaction to stress and anxiety - 'Xanax' is commonly and lightly referred to in mainstream media (e.g. films and TV shows), sometimes as an 'easy' solution.
  • Inability to get emergency Dr's appointment to get prescription medication.
    • Most pharmacies have qualified pharmacists on site who are able to listen to your symptoms and discuss the options available to you.
  • Needing medication outside of pharmacy opening hours.
    • Sheffield City Urgent Care (S1 3PB) is open until 10 pm every day.
    • Wicker Pharmacy (S3 8HT) is open until 10 pm Monday to Saturday and until 8 pm on Sundays).
  • Desperation - needing additional support to what has been prescribed.

What are the risks?

  • The potency of these drugs varies considerably between batches and suppliers, so you never know the true strength of what you're taking and how it will affect you. Similarly, the ingredients themselves are unknown, so you really have no idea what you could be putting into your body.
  • They are unapproved and no testing takes place, so it is impossible to tell whether what you are taking is even safe for human consumption, never mind whether it will have the desired effect.
  • The original source of the drugs is unknown, with no official manufacturer details available - so there is no accountability should you need further advice or should things go wrong.
  • If following ingestion of the pills, you need medical assistance, you won't be able to tell the emergency services what you've taken. The research drugs used in these pills don't usually show up in instant or lab urine tests, so medical professionals could misdiagnose and lead to ineffective treatment or dangerous withdrawals.
  • As with all illegal drugs (no matter how legitimate they may seem), you never know the true identity of the supplier, who could be untrustworthy and even dangerous. Xanax and Flualprazolam are Class C drugs, and even possession for personal use could lead to 2 years imprisonment, unlimited fines, or both.

Concerned about yourself, a family member, or a friend?

  • START: Treatment, advice, and support for drug and alcohol issues
    • 0114 305 0500
    • Drop-in service: 42 Sidney Street, Sheffield, S1 4RH
  • Nightline: Overnight listening and support service for students in crisis/distress. Ran by students, for students
  • Togetherall: Free student resources for improving mental health
  • Emergency Services: For help in an emergency
    • 999 / 112

Written by Ryan Coleflax