UK dark web market for illicit Xanax booms

The UK is facing an “emerging crisis” as sales over the dark web of illicit anti-anxiety med Xanax drastically increase, it has been revealed.

According to data obtained by the Guardian, the UK is the second-largest market after the US for sales of the drug from illegal online darknet sites, accounting for 22 per cent of all global transactions of anti-anxiety treatments on the secretive and anonymous network.

The article cites research from the Oxford Internet Institute that found that Xanax accounted for 50,000 out of 1.5 million trades monitored on the dark web in 2017, with some of those trades potentially involving thousands of pills.

The illicit Xanax (alprazolam), a benzodiazepine drug, is sold online without a prescription for as little as £1 a tablet. In some cases, the pills may be counterfeit.

There have been an increasing number of cases documented of fake Xanax and other anti-anxiety medications being laced with the powerful addictive opioid fentanyl, which is contributing to the opioid epidemic in the US.

Alongside this, there have been numerous reports of a spike in the use of Xanax, particularly in younger people, where increasing rates of anxiety is a growing concern.

Dr Adrian Harrop, an A&E doctor in Scarborough, told the Guardian that the misuse of Xanax was an “emerging crisis” and a “nationwide issue”. “Increasing numbers of young people are overdosing on Xanax, having obtained it from the internet… It’s already an acknowledged crisis situation in the US and Scotland and not before long we may see increasing deaths… in England unless we address it.”

Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said that young people were able to readily access Xanax online. “We learned during a recent parliamentary debate that a staggering 130 million benzodiazepine tablets (including Xanax) have found their way onto the UK criminal market since 2014. At 20 times the strength of Valium, the government must urgently do more to protect the public and prevent Xanax being sold illicitly online and in person.”

In January, the Guardian reported that MPs were calling for an investigation into the “escalating use” of Xanax in young people who were using the drug to “self-medicate”, ranking it in the top five of drugs used by young people, alongside cannabis and alcohol.

Recently, Europol has been more actively targeting dodgy online pharmacies selling illicit and fake drugs, with an operation last year closing down more than 20,000 rogue websites selling drugs and counterfeit goods. But experts have expressed concern that the enforcement actions are pushing vendors to the dark web to sell their illicit wares in increasing numbers. In 2016, a report found that prescription pharmaceuticals represented almost 12 per cent of illegal content on the dark web.

Fake Xanax pills are a growing concern in the US, where a number of deaths have been recorded.

In February last year, a Californian man who was the mastermind behind a US operation that manufactured more than 160,000 fake Xanax pills, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

While fentanyl is more commonly found in fake oxycodone and other opiate drugs in the US, the US Drug Enforcement Administration warned last year that “the success traffickers have experienced with secreting fentanyl and related compounds in counterfeit opioid medications will likely result in the emergence of fentanyl and related compounds in a variety of other counterfeit prescription drugs”, such as Xanax.

Between January and March 2016, nine people died in Florida from taking fake Xanax pills containing fentanyl.

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