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​“It’s an epidemic”: Fake and laced benzos are circulating in the UK

Pill-based drugs such as valium and xanax may now contain substances such as metonitazene, which is 1000x the strength of heroin

  • 30 March 2024
​“It’s an epidemic”: Fake and laced benzos are circulating in the UK

The UK is reportedly facing a “benzo crisis” as the UK drugs market enters a “high-risk phase”, according to harm reduction and drug safety service Pill Report.

Both Pill Report and The Loop issued warnings this week on the rise of fake and laced benzos in the UK - most commonly pill-based sedative drugs such as xanax and valium - which Pill Report said is growing into a “fentanyl-style epidemic”.

Benzos, which are commonly used to treat anxiety and often used by ravers to fall asleep at the end of a night, enhance the production of the GABA neurotransmitter to reduce the activity of nerve cells, ultimately calming the body and mind.

Pill Report suggests that 47.1% of American clubbers aged 18 to 29 have used “non-prescribed” sedative drugs like benzos in the last four months.

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“If you get your prescription from anyone but a doctor, you need to listen up and tell your friends,” Pill Report explained on Instagram earlier this week.

“The UK drugs market is entering a high-risk phase, specifically regarding synthetic opioids in the drugs supply,” they said. “Most street benzos – including those in realistic, branded, blister packs – now contain alternative compounds when tested by drugs testing services.”

Alternative compounds found in those pills include the psychoactive substance bromazolam, as well as metonitazene, a “super-strength opioid” with a potency between 30 and 200 times that of morphine, which has been linked to at least 20 deaths in the US, per UK GOV.

“Until recently, you could be somewhat confident that street benzos bought in the UK were genuine,” they explained. “But drug testing results have recently that benzos on the illicit market contain a dizzying and dangerous array of alternative substances.”

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Similarly, drug checking and harm reduction organisation The Loop also issued a warning this week on the rise of fake and laced benzos, urging anyone using such drugs to get them tested.

“The UK drugs market has been changing and there are now a range of higher risk substances circulating, such as nitazenes,” The Loop said alongside a set of infographics. “We want to raise awareness about this emerging public health risk.”

“There appears to be considerable adulteration in the heroin market, and so too in illegally bought “prescription” benzodiazepines and opioid pills. In some more limited cases, other drugs, such as some “club drugs” may be affected.”

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Speaking to Mixmag, The Loop CEO Katy Porter explained: "We are very concerned by the changing drug market in the UK. Whilst it has always been the case that drugs present an unknown and can vary in strength, the synthetic opioids, nitazenes, are of particular concern."

"Nitazenes are being found within benzodiazepines that are sold and purchased in the UK and may be used by people who don't have a tolerance to any level of opioids. With the strength of the synthetic opioids, we would strongly encourage people to consider their use of illicit benzos, and if possible and available use a drug checking service. If using, reduce dose to reduce risk, and have naloxone available to use in an emergency."

The Loop advised several safety precautions, which include drug testing, carrying naloxone, avoid taking drugs alone, and looking out for “unexpected reactions” such as a sudden loss of consciousness, memory loss, or blackouts.

We’ve listed some helpful resources below.

Pill Report is a harm reduction and information service offering drug testing kits, ear protection, and more. Find out more about them here.

The Loop is a non-profit NGO promoting harm reduction, health & wellbeing through drug checking, staff training, information & advice. Find out more about them here, and donate to The Loop's Just Giving page, which will assist in the purchase of testing equipment and the ability to run labs in more locations.

WEDINOS is a harm reduction project providing an anonymous service, and reflects trends in substance use. Find out more about them here.

Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter

Photo by Quote Catalog

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