KIDS as young as 11 are so stressed out by modern life they’re putting their lives at risk by taking dangerous anti-anxiety pills.
Young people across Britain are becoming hooked on Xanax and a Sun Online investigation shows potentially deadly fake tablets can be bought for just 80p from social media and rogue online pharmacies.
Thousands of fake Xanax pills were seized from a gang in Vauxhall, London, earlier this year[/caption]
There have been reports of kids as young as 11 needing treatment for abusing the drug, with 13-year-old’s found “dealing” it at school.
Today, an inquest heard that Louis Tomlinson’s 18-year-old sister Felicite accidentally overdosed on a “perfect storm” of cocaine, Xanax and oxycodon – though it’s not clear where she got the drugs from.
Inner West London Coroner’s Court heard the teen had a long history of drug use after the death of her mum Johannah Deakin, who died from leukaemia in 2016.
Campaigners warn young people are growing up in a pressure cooker, with school stress, social media and body image issues all playing a part – and some are resorting to anxiety medication to cope.
Its popularity is thought to have soared among young people thanks to Xanax being touted in lyrics by stars such as rappers Drake and Lil Peep and actress-turned-singer Lindsay Lohan.
Last year, 17-year-old Kieran Shepherd died after taking Xanax tablets four months after his idol Lil Peep overdosed and died of the same drug.
Many children apparently mistakenly think it is safer than illegal drugs, even though cops say counterfeit pills can be cut with other substances such as heavy metals and FLOOR POLISH.
DEALERS PUSHING PILLS ON INSTAGRAM
Although the thought of kids buying these pills on the streets would be worrying enough, many are being targeted in their own homes – via social media sites like Instagram, which are hugely popular with kids.
As part of The Sun Online’s You’re Not Alone suicide prevention campaign our journalist was able to place orders with fake pill pushers in a matter of minutes and arrange deliveries for later that day.
On Instagram – which is open to users as young as 13 – a number of accounts advertise anti-anxiety meds among other illegal drugs under Xanax-related hashtags.
The key signs your child is at risk of suicide
Mental health disorders don’t just affect adults, kids are at risk too.
Children as young as two are even said to be suffering, with the NHS previously stating one in eight kids has a mental illness.
Mental health problems can lead to suicidal thoughts, so here are the key signs to watch out for:
- Bad mood that won’t go away
- Tearful or emotional outbursts
- Lack of interest in fun things they used to love
- Feeling tired all the time
- Eating less or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of concentration
- Low self-esteem
Dealers direct customers towards encrypted messaging services such as Kik and Telegram before discussing quantities and prices.
Some accounts based in the UK cover areas including London, Manchester and East Anglia and arrange face-to-face drop offs.
Others based in the US claim to be able to offer postal delivery to the UK within 24 hours.
Most asked for payment through bitcoin or pre-paid gift cards for sites such as eBay.
Selling drugs is against Instagram’s terms and the app has also banned dozens of hashtags known to be exploited by dealers.
But while hashtags such as #xanax are now no longer searchable, we found dealers operating under similar hashtags – which we have decided not to disclose – in less than 10 minutes.
Around 24 million people in the UK use Instagram and an estimated 59 per cent of people under 30 use the platform.
Earlier this year, a group of schoolchildren in Sussex were taken to hospital after buying fake Xanax tablets.
The pills were later found to have been laced with powerful painkiller fentanyl – which is 100 times stronger than morphine.
ONLINE PHARMACIES SELLING WITHOUT PRESCRIPTION
A quick Google search reveals scores of online pharmacists claiming to be able to supply and deliver Xanax pills in the UK without a prescription.
At first glance one site we visited is almost impossible to tell apart from genuine suppliers.
It describes itself as “an online pharmacy store where you can buy cheap sleeping pills in the UK without prescription”.
The pharmacy, whose name we are not revealing, claims to be based at an address in Poplar, East London, but the site is home to a 15-storey residential apartment complex with no sign of the business.
The Sun Online was able to get to within one confirmation click of ordering for 30 pills for £37.99 (around 83p each) without a prescription and using a false name in just a few minutes.
The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies estimates there are around 35,000 online pharmacies worldwide, with more than 90 per cent operating illegally.
The British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society warns most online pharmacies do not operate within UK law and often sell potentially lethal cocktails of substances.
CELEB CULTURE ‘FUELLING’ XANAX RISE
The rising popularity of Xanax comes at a time when it has become glamorised by music stars.
Grammy-winner Drake, infamously raps “I did half a Xan, thirteen hours ’til I land” in his song Sicko Mode.
Actress-turned-singer Lindsay Lohan last week revealed her new single will be called Xanax and feature lyrics such as: “You’re like Xanax to me, when you kiss me, I can’t breathe. I try to stay away from you but you get me high.”
In a documentary, pop star Demi Lovato revealed she almost died of an overdose having “popped a few Xanax bars” with cocaine in 2012 when her heart started racing.
Tragically, American pop star Lil Peep accidentally overdosed on Xanax and dangerous opioid Fentanyl while on his tour bus, after recording himself taking six “xannies”.
Anti-drugs charities say celebrity culture has helped drive the popularity of anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax.
Nick Hickmott, Team Leader at Young Addaction, said: “High profile celebrities using Xanax has certainly played a role in increasing numbers of young people using the drug. But it’s only part of the picture.
“Young people today are under more pressure than ever before. Many use Xanax as a way to self-medicate mental health issues like anxiety or depression while some use it as a recreational drug, often mixing it with alcohol and or cannabis to reach a more sedated state.
“There’s no doubt that social media has made it easier to buy drugs. The risk is that people think it’s safer than buying drugs from a street dealer.
“In reality, drugs are often mislabelled and there’s no easy way to tell the purity of what you’re buying. This makes it really hard to safely manage how much to take.
“Illegal Xanax can vary greatly in strength meaning it can be hard for people to judge what a correct dose is. Side effects can include drowsiness, blackouts and breathing difficulties. Mixing it with alcohol is particularly dangerous as it increases the rate the drug is absorbed into the body.”
What is Xanax?
XANAX is prescribed for the short term management of anxiety disorders and panic disorders – but many Brits are risking their lives by using it as a “party drug”.
The benzodiazepine tranquiliser is highly addictive as it produces dopamine in the brain – the chemical associated with feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
Members of the benzodiazepine family have been associated with depressive and even suicidal thoughts with prolonged use.
The drug is not available on the NHS but can be obtained on a prescription from a private doctor.
Counterfeit, or fraudulent, versions of the drug are often bought on the dark web and are mixed with other substances, making it very dangerous.
When mixed with alcohol it can slow a person’s heart rate and breathing; when this happens, the user is at high risk of respiratory arrest, impaired oxygen exchange, coma and even death
PAIN OF FAMILIES HAUNTED BY ‘XANAX’ DEATHS
Families of drug users killed after taking Xanax-style pills have warned a celebrity culture around the tablets is luring people into putting their lives on the line.
Teenager Kieran Shepherd, 17, was found dead at his girlfriend’s flat last year after ‘experimenting’ with Class C drug Xanax.
The teen, from Chesterfield bought Xanax on the dark web and an inquest into his death heard how “a lot of people” in the Derbyshire town had been taking the drug.
His girlfriend Erin Crick told the inquest: “A lot of people in Chesterfield were taking it.
“He was upset about his granddad being poorly and he was fed up with college.
“I didn’t think this would happen.”
His mum Lisa Shepherd described him as “caring and loving” while his father Richard said he was a “lovely kid” who was “easily led”.
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost – to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes. And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet, it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign. To remind anyone facing a tough time, grappling with mental illness or feeling like there’s nowhere left to turn, that there is hope.
To mark World Suicide Prevention Day we share the stories of brave survivors, relatives left behind, heroic Good Samaritans – and tips from mental health experts.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others.
You’re Not Alone.
Border Force figures show 340,000 fake Xanax bars with a street value of more than £1m were seized at UK ports and airports last year.
In one of Britain’s biggest seizures, a gang in Vauxhall, South London, were found with around 15,000 fake Xanax tablets in April.
A spokesman for Pfizer, manufacturers of Xanax, said the company works with UK authorities to try and stamp out counterfeit pills.
He said: “Counterfeits are difficult to distinguish from the real medicines and are extremely dangerous by their very nature given that they are not produced under regulated manufacturing conditions to ensure their safety.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
MORE FROM YOU'RE NOT ALONE
“We have found dangerous ingredients such as boric acid, heavy metals and floor polish in counterfeit medicines.
“Pfizer has always been at the forefront in the fight against counterfeits and the criminals behind them.
“We will continue to work side by side with all law enforcement agencies around the world to help detect, disrupt and deter counterfeit medicines trade.”
Instagram said it works quickly to remove any content that violated its rules once alerted to it and was “continuing to invest in this area”.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please call the Samaritans on (free) 116123