05 Aug ‘Street benzos’: Warning over surge in deadly bootlegged sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs | UK News
A surge in the use of bootlegged sedatives and anti-anxiety medications linked to a string of hospital admissions and deaths during lockdown has prompted an alert from health officials.
The warning from Public Health England (PHE) said illicit drugs sold as benzodiazepines could have potentially fatal consequences, particularly when taken with alcohol and some painkillers.
It said the drugs were being marketed as the anti-anxiety drugs diazepam and alprazolam, and the sedative temazepam.
And according to the alert, which was issued on 24 July, toxicology results from recent hospital admissions and deaths – and seized caches of the tablets – indicated the counterfeit drugs were causing harm.
Users were warned 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”.
Sometimes referred to as “street benzos”, most of the dangerous tablets are said to be blue but may come in other colours and could stain people’s mouths.
PHE said they were often packaged in blister packs or proper pharmacy tubs to make them appear legitimate, and may claim to contain a certain dose of approved drugs, such as diazepam.
But they may not contain any genuine medicines and will instead have high-potency illicit benzodiazepines, an equivalent compound or another non-medical substance, PHE said.
And the health body said the strength of street benzos could vary widely, putting the user at risk of overdose as they have no reliable measure of their intake.
By impacting brain activity and slowing the central nervous system, benzodiazepines affect breathing.
But they are even more dangerous when used with other substances that have the same effect such as heroin and other opioids, and the epilepsy medication and painkiller gabapentinoids.
Release, the drug research and drug policy charity, said it was still unclear where these bootlegged benzodiazepines were coming from, but that many were being supplied to dealers through the dark web.
It found users were mainly still relying on face-to-face transactions to obtain the drug.
The organisation’s executive director, Niamh Eastwood, said some of the increase in the use of street benzos during lockdown had been driven by people normally dependent on heroin.
She said people who may have relied on begging or petty crime such as shoplifting had seen their income 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.
And she added that the bust of the “EncroChat” crime network by the National Crime Agency in July – which saw more than 700 arrests – had also significantly disrupted the heroin market, causing many to switch to benzos.