A Bournemouth addiction charity is warning that more young people are using a prescription drug recreationally.
The charity says students are selling Xanax to each other and getting it delivered to their door from the dark web.
The pills, which aren’t available from the NHS, can be obtained privately to treat anxiety.
Michael Brown, a charity worker at Young Addaction, says: “In the last year and a half there seems to have been a rise in [xanax] use.”
He says all cases the charity have dealt with over the last 18 months have been students at universities or schools and one case involved someone in halls of residence selling Xanax.
However, PC Andy Scarratt, from Bournemouth University’s neighbourhood policing team, says he hasn’t dealt with any cases.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a brand name for a drug called alprazolam. It’s part of a larger group of drugs called benzodiazepines, or “benzos”, which are class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
If caught in possession illegally, the maximum sentence is two years in prison. This increases to 14 years and a fine if you’re caught selling or making it. However, the pills can also be prescribed by private doctors to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
As Xanax is a minor tranquilliser, Brown says: “students are often using it to alleviate stress”.
Daniel, a student whose name has been changed to protect his identity, started using Xanax at university recreationally. He says: “it’s similar to being a bit drunk. It also makes you feel nice and warm, but can make you really forgetful.”
“It was pretty awful”
Benzos are known to be very addictive when used recreationally.
Brown explains: “Some of the side effects from repeat use can be seizures and it can definitely lead to addiction and all sorts of complications.”
Daniel has previously been addicted to Xanax because he didn’t realise the risks involved when taking it regularly. He said: “if you take it too often you can start needing to take it to feel normal or to sleep.
“It has nasty withdrawal symptoms which you don’t think will affect you but they did. Shaking, funny heart rate, seeing things, lack of sleep, all sorts of nasty stuff.”
The illegal Xanax trade
The dark web has a major role to play in the illegal buying and selling of Xanax.
In Bournemouth, Brown says: “more often than not it will be accessed via the web”.
Daniel gets Xanax from the dark web because, he says, it’s cheap and comes well disguised as a children’s toy in the post, despite the unreliability of most of the suppliers.
Dr Christopher Richardson, head of Bournemouth University’s cyber security unit, explains the dark web is a way of accessing and using the internet anonymously. He says: “it is a place that Google doesn’t see.
“The anonymous nature of the dark web means people don’t have to declare who they are when they are buying and selling.”
Naturally, there are dangers in using the dark web. For example, he explains that whilst a user may think they are buying drugs, the suppliers may be putting malware – software designed to disrupt, damage, or gain access to a device – on their computer at the same time.
But, policing the dark web is very difficult, according to Dr Richardson.
“The real problem is the volume of data being transferred on a day to day basis. You’re not looking for a pin in a haystack, you’re looking for a pin in an ocean.”