Anxious times

Shocked by cases in his constituency, Bambos Charalambous MP is calling for government action on Xanax.

The powerful sedative Xanax is being used by young people across the country (DDN April, page 6). Some are taking it to self-medicate to cope with anxiety, while younger teenagers are being groomed and exploited by drug dealers taking advantage of the drug’s ‘zombie-like’ effects.

On 15 January, Xanax was mentioned for the first time in the House of Commons chamber. I held the debate to bring to light a disturbing case of a 14-year-old girl in my constituency who had become hooked on the drug. Her mother had contacted me shortly after I was elected to ask for my help and this was the first time I had heard of Xanax. I then became aware of how widespread its use is.

For the next six months, I pretty much asked every young person that I met if they had heard of Xanax. They almost laughed in my face at my ignorance and I’ve since been instructed to use the word ‘Xanny’. I’ve now listened to more rap music than I ever thought I would and was utterly shocked by the selfie Youtube video shot just six hours before the death of Lil Peep from a Xanax overdose.

Some young people in their early twenties told me that they easily buy Xanax online for as little as £1 a pill and use it to self-medicate for their anxiety. This is worrying enough, but the case of my 14-year-old constituent is far more sinister. Zoe (not her real name) was a bright and popular girl with lots of friends, but after she was approached by an older girl at her school and an ex-pupil, she started going to private raves and parties in houses across North London. She was swept up in a whirl of excitement by this new lifestyle and was introduced to Xanax, mixing it with alcohol and becoming sedated.

Zoe would go missing for whole weekends and would come home with marks and bruises on her arms and legs with no recollection of how she got them. The vulnerable state that Xanax puts users in leaves them extremely vulnerable to abuse, and who knows what happened to Zoe – she certainly can’t remember. On some occasions, Zoe became aggressive towards her mother and after a fraught evening she ended up spending the night in a police cell. Again, she had no recollection of any of this.

Despite help from the police and abduction warning notices that were served on six people, Zoe was now being heavily groomed. ‘Baggies’ were hidden in Zoe’s bedroom and things took a turn for the worse when Zoe and her best friend were found in a mess on the school premises after taking Xanax. Zoe wasn’t excluded and was allowed to stay on at school with some extra support services. Zoe’s mother, and the school tried their best but she was still able to get hold of dirt-cheap Xanax, peddled by a dealer from a booth in a McDonalds restaurant right next to a police station. All the information that had been pieced together was passed on to the police who arrested three people on drug-related charges in December. This was not before Zoe and her best friend were found to be drunk on the school premises and then permanently excluded from school.

Whether the glamourisation of Xanax use is a matter of art imitating life or life imitating art, the problem is certainly a real one in the UK. The truth is that there is a cultural and age divide and, for whatever reason, the fact remains that Xanax is the drug of choice for some young people. Maybe it’s because it helps numb the pain, maybe it’s because it is fashionable, maybe it’s because it is cheap and easy to get hold of – I can only speculate. I’ve called on the government to research the prevalence of Xanax use in the UK, to raise public awareness about the effects and potential harms and to provide specialist support for those who have developed a dependency.

Bambos Charalambous is MP for Enfield Southgate

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