Surge in use of fake anxiety drugs linked to deaths, PHE warns in national alert

A NATIONAL alert has been issued by health officials after fake anxiety drugs were linked to deaths in England.

Public Health England (PHE) said there has been a surge in the use of bootlegged sedatives and anti-anxiety medications during the coronavirus lockdown.

Officials claim that these have been linked to a string of deaths and warned that illicit drugs sold as benzodiazepines could have fatal consequences if taken with certain painkillers or alcohol.

On July 25 PHE put out the alert which stated that drugs were being marketed as anti-anxiety drugs such as alprazolam, diazepam and the sedative temazepam.

PHE said recent hospital admissions and deaths had been linked to the drugs through toxicology reports.

It advised users to watch out for a tablet with "DAN 5620" on one side and "10" on the other, as well as one marked "T-20", "TEM 20", "Bensedin" and "MSJ".

If you make something look legitimate people then either believe that it is or con themselves into believing that it is until they find out otherwise

The dangerous tablets are usually referred to as “street benzos”, are blue and will usually stain your mouth.

People selling the drugs will often package them in blister packs or pharmacy packaging to make them look legitimate.

The drugs may not contain genuine medicines and could have non-medical substances and high-potency illicit benzodiazepines.

The strength of such street drugs can vary – putting the user at risk.

As the ingredients are also often unknown, people taking these pills have no measure of how they will affect them.

Benzodiazepines impact brain activity and slow the central nervous system, which affects breathing.

If used with other substances they can have a similar effect to drugs such as heroin.

PHE warned the drugs also impact mental health and can increase suicidal thoughts, particularly in young adults and people with alcohol or opioid addiction.

In April, the body advising the Government on drug use, called for three new synthetic benzodiazepines – flualprazolam, flunitrazolam and norfludiazepam – to be banned.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found these so-called "legal highs" had been linked to 12 deaths in the UK as of March 2020.

Drug research and drug policy charity Release said it is still unclear where these bootlegged benzodiazepines are coming from, but that many are being supplied to dealers via the dark web.

The charity said that users are relying on face-to-face transactions to source the drugs.

Niamh Eastwood, Release's executive director said the surge during lockdown has been driven by those who would usually take heroin.

She added that people who would get their income from petty crimes had seen it disappear overnight.

"One of the drivers of the increase in the early part of lockdown was that heroin users lost income and couldn't buy it so shifted to benzos which are significantly cheaper," she said.

Last month the National Crime Agency busted the crime network “EncroChat”.

Niamh said this helped disrupt the heroin market – but in turn caused many to turn to other street drugs.

Harry Shapiro, director of charity DrugWise, said the distribution of the drugs in industry-standard packaging allowed some dealers to convince buyers they were genuine medicines that had found their way onto the black market.

"If you make something look legitimate people then either believe that it is or con themselves into believing that it is until they find out otherwise," he added.

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