The drug Xanax is available over the counter in the US, and is commonly used to treat anxiety. However, in the UK it’s only available when prescribed by a doctor. Despite this, a new report has shown that a growing number of teenagers are buying the medication on sites like Facebook and Instagram, as well as other prescription drugs like diazepam.
One charity, Addaction, claims that children as young as 13 are being targeted by advertisements on the site and are able to purchase drugs. Nick Hickmott, from Addaction, said: “It’s definitely part of our youth culture now. How many young people are using it is debatable, and obviously what’s really important is we get some really good statistics around this and some really good records so we know exactly what we’re dealing with, but it’s enough to be showing some concern.
“Following the take down of a number of large crypto markets by law enforcement last year, and a loss of trust in these markets by some users, we began to see a rise in drugs being sold over social media platforms. These platforms are much easier for young people to access, requiring little or no specialist knowledge to be able to purchase substances. Over the past six months we have seen a big rise in drugs being sold over platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook.”
A growing number of young people are now needing hospital treatment in the UK after taking the drug. Bambos Charalambous, an MP in London said that this highlighted the growing need for campaigns to raise awareness as well as enhancing the support services available. A spokesman for Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company which manufactures Xanax, said: “We are alarmed by the rise of counterfeit Xanax and its growing availability on the internet and dark web.”
“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. We have found dangerous ingredients such as boric acid, heavy metals and floor polish in counterfeit medicines. 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.”
A Home Office has said that they are taking action to address the issue. A spokesman said: “Controlled prescription-only medicines such as Xanax, by their very nature, are potent and should only be prescribed by a doctor or appropriate healthcare professional. We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online. Anything that is illegal offline should be illegal online.
“Law enforcement agencies continue to work with internet providers to shut down UK-based websites found to be committing offences and we expect social media companies to have robust processes in place to act promptly to remove content and user accounts that do not comply with their own policies. We are taking firm action to prevent the harms caused by drugs. Our Drug Strategy sets out a balanced approach which brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.”
Both Instagram and Facebook commented on the claims, saying that the sale of any type of drugs were strictly prohibited on their sites. They have also urged users to report any illegal activity they find online. An Instagram spokesman said: “Buying or selling drugs is prohibited on Instagram and these accounts have been removed.”A Facebook spokesman added:”Buying or selling drugs of any sort is not allowed on Facebook…We urge our community to report activity like this using our reporting tools which are available on every profile, page and piece of content on Facebook”