How British streets are awash with fake Xanax tablets that have killed hundreds… – The Sun

Fake versions of the drug, prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks in the US, is a drug of choice for British teens
THOUSANDS of sleek white pills are churned through a production line, destined for the pockets of kids who will gobble them like sweets.
And while this dingy under-ground factory may not be the super-lab seen in hit TV show Breaking Bad, it can produce £100,000 worth of potentially lethal fake Xanax pills in just a few hours.
It is one of countless makeshift laboratories to have sprung up across Britain, with the UK now the second-largest black market after the US for counterfeits of the anti-anxiety tablets.
Pill producer “Phil” boasts he runs one of the top five illegal labs in the UK and says of his production line: “What we have here is 42,000 Xanax. This lot here has a street value of about £105,000. It took me three hours to make.”
He adds: “I’ve been doing this for many years and I’ve never been at the point where I can produce enough to meet the demand for my product. I’m always turning away customers.”
Phil’s shocking admission, revealed in BBC Three documentary Inside Britain’s Black Market: Who’s Selling Fake Stuff?, should send a stark warning to any parent, especially as these copycat pills — often laced with deadly fentanyl — are destined to be flogged to kids as young as 14.
Xanax is a tranquillizer brand widely prescribed in the US to help treat anxiety and panic attacks, but is not available on the NHS.
Fake versions are now the drug of choice for British teens, with users saying a hit makes them feel “chilled out” and relaxed.
Talking to investigative journalist Livvy Haydock on the documentary, one dealer admits she has no issues about selling to schoolkids.
The dealer, known as Sarah, says: “The youngest I would say are about 14. Sometimes it is hard to judge a kid’s age, so it could be younger.
“I don’t feel guilty about selling to kids because they’re going to go with somebody else and buy.”
A shocked Livvy told The Sun: “I have worked in crime journalism for ten years — and met drug dealers from all around the world at all levels — but no one ever admits they would sell to kids.
“You know it goes on but they all say they don’t do it. But this dealer just turned around and said that. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t say anything, I just went ‘Wow’.
“She was so blasé, she didn’t care. She was just making money.”
It has previously been reported that children as young as 11 are being treated for Xanax abuse. Withdrawal symptoms can include seizures.
Drugs charity Addaction said it had also been made aware of 13-year-olds dealing it at school.
And A&E doctor Adrian Harrop describes Xanax misuse in the UK as an “emerging crisis”.
He said: “It’s already an acknowledged crisis in the US and Scotland, and not before long we may see in-creasing deaths . . . in England unless we address it.”
UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT) have seen a 200 per cent rise in people being admitted to rehab solely for Xanax addiction in the past two years. More than half of those are under the age of 24.
Many youngsters say they turn to Xanax to help rid them of shyness and social awkwardness. Some believe that because it’s available on prescription privately here and in the US, it is safer than taking illegal drugs.
But it seems that could not be further from the truth.
While the drug is intended to be a tranquillizer, side-effects can see users becoming violent, particularly if it is mixed with other drugs or alcohol. In the UK, at least 204 deaths since 2015 have been linked to the misuse of Xanax as cheap counterfeit versions have flooded the market.
With the same distinctive shape and stamped with the brand’s logo, the counterfeit Xanax tablets are sold openly online.
A Sun investigation last year revealed dealers were offering the drug for as little as 70p a pill over Instagram and Facebook.
Dealers will often send packages of pills disguised as birthday cards so parents do not get suspicious.
In the BBC Three documentary, manufacturer Phil, who also makes other pharmaceutical drugs for the black market, takes Livvy to his secret lab “in the middle of nowhere”.
He admits: “I have to move locations fairly regularly. I’ve been here for about two months. And then I’m due to move again shortly.
“If you move location you’re less likely to eventually get rumbled or busted, I suppose.”
His lab is bare except for a cement mixer and a few tables covered in equipment he has bought overseas. Phil imports the raw powder needed to make the copycat Xanax from China before he presses the tablets with a pill-press machine. He reveals he learnt how to make them through “trial and error” as well as “lots and lots of reading and research”.
Phil adds he is “always trying to learn new techniques and new recipes”. His business has become so successful, he boasts: “There are about five of us that have the market on lockdown.
“Most of the top labs in the top five have been going for a few years. And we’re all conscious of our products and want to put out good products for everyone. And it shows in the reviews online.”
But he reveals counterfeit tablets are often laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl, dubbed “the most deadly drug in America”. Phil checks there is none of the opioid in the imported powder he uses to make his pills by using a urine test kit.
XANAX is prescribed for the short term management of anxiety disorders and panic disorders – but many Brits are risking their lives by using it as a “party drug”.
The benzodiazepine tranquiliser is highly addictive as it produces dopamine in the brain – the chemical associated with feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
Members of the benzodiazepine family have been associated with depressive and even suicidal thoughts with prolonged use.
The drug is not available on the NHS but can be obtained on a prescription from a private doctor.
Counterfeit, or fraudulent, versions of the drug are often bought on the dark web and are mixed with other substances, making it very dangerous.
When mixed with alcohol it can slow a person’s heart rate and breathing; when this happens, the user is at high risk of respiratory arrest, impaired oxygen exchange, coma and even death
But other fake pill manufacturers may not be so vigilant. Shockingly, another dealer reveals that wholesalers rely on an army of “street guinea pigs” to ensure the drugs are “safe” before they go on general sale.
He explains: “There are people out there that are willing to do it for free so they don’t have to pay for the drugs. It’s about luck really, when you think about it. The pills are clearly coming from somewhere that is obviously not legit.”
The black market for fake Xanax is clearly booming. Rogue pills with a street value £1million have been seized from UK ports and airports in the past three years.
A UK Border Force spokesman says its officers are “at the forefront of the fight to keep illegal drugs out of the country”, yet Phil paints a very different picture. He says: “I’ve had plenty stopped by Customs. A lot of the time you just get a letter saying it’s been seized.
“They don’t really follow it up. Sometimes they do, but the majority of the time they don’t.
Despite the dangers the drug poses, Phil told Livvy he does not feel any guilt over what he does.
He says of his customers: “They’re taking that risk, they’re paying the money. I’ll make it and I’ll do it as best as I can. The rest is on them.”
Speaking to The Sun, journalist Livvy says Phil “came across in person like a nice, normal guy”.
But in reality, it seems he has little regard for the youngsters his pills are destined for.
Livvy said: “Even though he tested for fentanyl, he didn’t test for anything else. Anything could be in that powder. He can’t possibly know what’s in that product.
“I raised it with him and he just shrugged his shoulders.”
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