The Unfortunate Rise of America’s Recreational Xanax Addiction

  1. What is Xanax?

Xanax is a brand name version of the powerful benzodiazepine Alprazolam. This medicine is used to treat anxiety and panic attacks. Unfortunately, this medicine has incredibly powerful addictive properties, and can only be prescribed temporarily because its effectiveness diminishes the longer a patient takes it. This medicine is so addictive that some patients need to undergo supervised withdrawal, and must titer off treatment. This withdrawal process can induce breakthrough anxiety by itself, making addiction self fulfilling and incredibly painful.

  1. Why the boom?

The news has been riddled with information of massive Xanax busts in the United State/s and Canada.   The rapid growth in the recreational abuse of Xanax can been attributed to the proliferation in homemade counterfeits. Alprazolam powder, the base ingredient that is pressed into pill form, is bought and sold on the dark net at a fraction of the street price for the drug. This has created a massive underground economy of manufactures and resellers that flagrantly post about their exploits on clear net websites like in subreddits devoted entirely to the underground trade, like /r/barbarians (currently private).

 Law Enforcement Bust of Dark Net Market Vendors “Dr. Xanax”

Another explanation for the boom in Xanax abuse can be attributed to underhanded sales tactics used by manufacturers and resellers. It’s common for dealers to falsely advertise homemade Xanax as containing 2mg of alprazolam, when many of these distributers knowingly buy and resell pills with nearly twice as much active ingredient. This is especially alarming considering that the maximum dosage a doctor will prescribe a patient is 5mg a day, and that only occurs in the most severe cases of anxiety treatment (Wolny, Philip. Abusing Prescription Drugs. New York: Rosen Central/Rosen Pub., 2008). Dealers are intentionally trying to rope their customers into severe benzodiazepine addictions to ensure their business continues to grow. Recreational Xanax users are being taken advantage of neurologically, and the lack of public discussion of this prescription drug abuse has only propagated the expansion of the drug trade.

While it would be far from accurate to say that the war on drugs, and America’s draconian drug laws help mitigate this underground trade, Canada’s incredibly relaxed drug laws explain why they are home to some of the biggest homemade Xanax manufacturers. Canadian drug laws state that the trafficking or manufacturing of Schedule IV drugs, including Alprazolam, will result in maximum sentencing of 4 years (Criminal Code).  In the United States, schedule IV drug manufacturing and trafficking can result in sentencing for 25+ years (U.S.S.G). US drug laws outlaw the unregulated use of pill presses, the fabrication of copyrighted pills, false advertisement of the press as legitimate prescription medication, the sale of the drug itself, and even the intent to purchase manufacturing equipment.

It’s clear that outlawing the drug economy has done little to stop the drug epidemic, and has only driven the industry underground. The dark net has provided an avenue for drug entrepreneurs to continue to expand their operations while evading law enforcement. It’s clear that attempting to stop drug abuse by attacking the supply side of the market doesn’t work. This is because the demand side of the market will exist as long as dealers have addictive substances to sell to users. If the federal government actually wanted to combat drug use they would attempt to reduce demand on the user side of the market by expanding addiction treatment centers, and raising public awareness of the dangers of taking pills that have been pressed outside of the quality controlled and regulated pharmaceutical industry.

III. Harm Reduction

For drug users Xanax appears to be a viable high because it’s impossible to overdose on alprazolam, it comes from the pharmacy, and it provides a sedative buzz like that of alcohol. Unfortunately, this logic is flawed in a few dangerous ways.

First, users are often swindled by dealers and tricked into believing they are buying real pills from the pharmacy. One of the most popular dark net presses isn’t even a pill that is prescribed in America. The following picture shows Xanax pills that are all completely fake, and likely contain up to 4mg of alprazolam.

“Ladders” (White), “Hulks” (Green), and “School Buses” (Yellow) are all counterfeit presses that contain up to 4mg of alprazolam.

Second, some dealers have gone as far as making fake presses containing lethal quantities of fentanyl, a powerful opioid (Recent Citing’s of Fentanyl Laced Xanax). Like Heroin dealers, Xanax dealers believe that having a stronger product will drive up business. Spiking a pill with a lethal quantity of fentanyl, causing an overdose, would help drive up business for their product as users catch wind of the overdose. The dark irony of this practice is that it’s virtually impossible to overdose on alprazolam (LD50 for Alprazolam). The following citation notes that the LD50 (Lethal Dose for 50% of those dosed) of alprazolam for rats was 331-2171 mg/kg. This doesn’t take into consideration the dangers of mixing alprazolam with alcohol.

If you’re trying to get a benzodiazepine buzz, it’s important to understand the risks associated with street presses, and the dangers of chasing the dragon. Xanax is never prescribed to a patient indefinitely, and becomes almost entirely ineffective for anxiety treatment after only 6 months (Wolny 2008). Benzodiazepine’s are neurologically addictive, and shouldn’t be treated lightly. Stay safe, and try to avoid turning into just another statistic in America’s war on drugs.