Xanax users, take note, especially if you don’t know where the pills you’re taking came from.
Authorities have issued public warnings about a recent rise in overdose deaths linked to fake fentanyl-laced Xanax tablets that are being sold on the streets in Central Florida, California, and other parts of the US.
The “super pill,” as it is called, is similar in appearance to pure Xanax, fooling users who think they are buying the anti-anxiety drug typically prescribed by psychiatrists.
But the tablet, which is thinner than actual Xanax and has a stamped-on number, is spiked with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, the same narcotic drug that is reported to have caused musician Prince’s overdose death in April 2016.
The deadly mix, authorities say, underscores the risks of buying and taking prescription medication from street dealers and other unreliable sources. Many street drugs are laced with harmful substances—among them rat poison, bug spray, ammonia, formaldehyde, and other chemicals—so buyers risk their health and well-being every time they ingest them.
“It is important for consumers who need prescription painkillers, to get them from licensed pharmacies,” said Danny Banks, an Orlando special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in a news release. “Consumers have no idea what they are buying when they purchase prescription drugs on the street, and just one pill can be deadly.”
One reason officials have warned the public about the drug’s dangers is because of its potential to reach a wider range of users outside of those who use intravenous means to get high, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Officials expect use to increase as recreational drug users as well as youths who are experimenting with drugs can get their hands on the counterfeit Xanax pills.
Xanax Abuse Potential Already High
Xanax is a benzodiazepine that is used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, anxiety caused by depression, and various phobias. Its generic name is alprazolam. According to Drugs.com, alprazolam affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety.
The medication comes in either tablet form or an extended-release capsule and is fast-acting and calming to the user, easing physical tension, restlessness and overall unease brought on by anxiety. Its calming effects are achieved within 20 minutes to an hour, when the drug suppresses the brain’s inhibitory receptors and nervous system to decrease the levels of excitement in these areas that spark anxiety.
More prescriptions are written out for Xanax than any other benzodiazepine, according to DrugAbuse; an estimated 49 million were written out in 2011, it says. It also is among the most widely abused prescription drugs on the market, and one of the most addictive.
Long-term use can lead one to develop a tolerance for Xanax and become addicted to it without realizing it. Xanax addiction can have users seeking the drug outside the care of a licensed health professional or medical facility, increasing their chances of coming across fentanyl-laced Xanax pills.
Fast, Easy, Cheap and Powerful
Fentanyl, a narcotic drug prescribed to treat pain in cancer patients, is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin, says the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
According to The Guardian, some people use fentanyl recreationally, but dealers use the drug to cut, or stretch, heroin (which is different from lacing it with other substances). Fentanyl’s low cost, cheap production, and potency have boosted its popularity among dealers and producers.
Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the division of pain medicine at Stanford University, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The drug cartels are learning how to synthesize fentanyl, and it’s an incredibly potent opioid. It’s a tragic situation.”
Even at low levels, the powerful drug is potentially deadly, and overdoses are “occurring at an alarming rate,” the DEA said in an April 2016 press release about fake hydrocodone pills that contained fentanyl. The drug by itself is so highly dangerous that the DEA released a warning in June 2016 to all law enforcement officials to advise them against mishandling it when they come into contact with it.
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told Newsweek that fentanyl-laced drugs sold on the streets are coming into the US through established smuggling routes from Mexico that are operated by the same Mexican drug cartels that ship drugs to the US.
The publication also reports that fentanyl pills, powders, and patches are being made in labs in China or Mexico.
“As [the labs] have recognized this massive opioid epidemic here, we’ve seen a huge increase in fentanyl seizures, overdoses, and abuse, just like the designer synthetic drugs,” Payne told the publication.
Fentanyl-Laced Xanax Overdoses on East, West Coasts
Authorities have called fentanyl-laced Xanax a “death pill,” which has already been linked to several overdose deaths in Florida and California.
Xanax pills used for recreational purposes reportedly sell on the streets for $3 to $7, and higher in some cases, for 2-milligram bars, making them easy to get. But exactly what buyers are getting when they buy from street dealers is the issue.
Even when used properly in a medical setting for medicinal reasons, the drug’s “therapeutic index,” or window between a safe dosage of fentanyl and a deadly one, is narrow, Alex Stalcup, MD, and medical director of the New Leaf Treatment Center in California told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The people who are spiking the drug, as well as those selling it and buying it, likely don’t know how a laced drug is going to react when someone takes it. Another danger lies in buyers not knowing whether they have been sold laced Xanax or something altogether different.
That ignorance has been costly.
So far, in 2016 alone, counterfeit, fentanyl-laced Xanax pills have killed nine people in Pinellas County, Fla., Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times in a March 2016 article. Investigators also purchased at least nine lethal Xanax bars during undercover purchases, Fox 13 News Tampa Bay reported.
“People need to immediately stop buying Xanax on the street because their life literally depends on it,” Gualtieri said at a recent news conference.
FDLE officials also have seized fake Xanax pills laced with fentanyl in Brevard and Osceola counties.
The drug has emerged in other parts of the US, with some outlets reporting that it has turned up in at least 21 states. Besides obtaining it from dealers on the street, users can also find people via Craigslist who will sell the drug to them online.
Fentanyl-Related Cases in California
While the fentanyl crisis has largely affected the East Coast, public health authorities in California are concerned drugs laced with the opiate have made their way to the West Coast.
A recent period of fentanyl overdoses in Sacramento, Calif., left nine people dead in a little more than a week, reports the San Francisco Chronicle in an April 2016 article. The deadly drugs in those cases were largely counterfeit Norco tablets, the newspaper reported, which possibly came from the same supplier.
Norco is a painkiller that is a mix of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Drugs.com reports that hydrocodone can slow or stop a person’s breathing and that it should never be used in larger amounts or longer than it has been prescribed.
Newsweek reports that the DEA is investigating to locate the source of the counterfeit Norco pills.
In 2015, news station KPIX 5 in San Francisco reported that fake Xanax laced with fentanyl was linked to the death of one woman and the illnesses of three others. It is believed that all four may have known one another.
Phillip Coffin, MD, the director of Substance Use Research at the Center for Public Health Research at the San Francisco Department of Health, told the news station that it can be hard to tell the two apart.
“The front and back look almost identical to a real Xanax pill. It’s extremely hard to distinguish them,” he said.
He also explained that users often buy the pill on the street “to come down or cool off after a night of partying or something like that.”
What Happens When Fentanyl, Xanax Are Mixed?
While Xanax can be prescribed for use with opiates by doctors who are treating patients for pain and sleeping difficulties, recreational users are mixing the two substances for entirely different reasons, according to The Guardian.
Fentanyl-laced Xanax can accelerate respiratory depression, and according to Drugs.com, combining Xanax pills and fentanyl may increase dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty in concentrating. It also may cause cardiac arrest.
The drug is usually taken in a time-release patch to manage its rapid onset, though patches can be misused or abused, too, as WebMD warns. If ingested in powder form, there is no timed release, which makes the drug even more dangerous to take.
A woman told a Knoxville, Tenn., news station that Xanax laced with fentanyl nearly killed her sister earlier this year.
Her sister and another woman bought the Xanax from a street dealer for $10 each, and they each took one. Within minutes, they lost control of their bodies, which began making involuntary movements, and they eventually blacked out.
The woman said her sister was able to call 911 before she lost consciousness. Police who responded to the call gave the woman’s sister Naloxone, a medication used to treat narcotic overdoses. But it would be another 48 hours before she woke up. As of the story’s press time, the woman said her sister’s friend was still unconscious.
If you suspect that you have taken fake fentanyl-laced Xanax and are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or are having an experience similar to the one above, call 911 immediately.
Addicted to Xanax? Get Help Now
If you have Xanax use disorder or are chemically dependent on the sedative, seek treatment immediately. If you have stopped using Xanax after being on it for a long time, you may have Xanax withdrawal symptoms, which include insomnia, tremors, nausea and vomiting, brain fog, increased anxiety, mood swings, and other issues.
You don’t have to manage Xanax withdrawal symptoms or figure out your next move alone. Call 1-855-619-8070 today and let us help you find a treatment center near you that can help you overcome addiction and take control of your life.