Fentanyl circulates as fake Xanax in Halifax

According to frontline addictions workers in the Halifax area, there is a significant increase in the number of fake Xanax pills laced with the lethal opioid fentanyl circulating on the streets. Xanax is the brand name for a type of benzodiazepine medication typically prescribed for short-term management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Benzodiazepines include diazepam, lorazepam, alprazolam and clonazepam, and go under brand names including Valium, Ativan and Xanax. Data from Canadian Institute of Health Information demonstrates that in the Atlantic provinces, the prescribing of benzodiazepine and related medications is well above the Canadian average. Moreover, Xanax is currently being increasingly abused by teens in Nova Scotia.  

In his interview with CTV News, addictions outreach worker Matthew Bonn who works for the organization Hands Up Halifax, said he has been seeing a rise in fake Xanax containing fentanyl. “We’re seeing a lot of contaminated substances make their way into the drug supply,” he said. “They’re not legitimate… They’re different colours, they crumble and we’re seeing a lot more of it, so it’s very common.”

According to Bonn, by selling pills disguised as Xanax laced with fentanyl, underground illegal drug manufacturers can maximize their profits.

“People who are using, especially maybe youth, that are just taking a couple pills to take their anxiety away or to go out and have some drinks aren’t going to want to do fentanyl, but if somebody can mix it in with a substance that they do enjoy taking, they can slowly start to get them dependent on an opioid. It does happen a lot more than you would think.”

Matthew Bonn of Hands Up Halifax, to CBC News

Halifax Pharmacist Peter Jorna told CTV News that brand name Xanax pills are not often prescribed in the Halifax area. “Alprazolam is the generic name for it and it’s mainly made by generic manufacturers,” he said. “That’s mainly what people would get from a pharmacy. As a matter of fact, I’ve never dispensed a brand name Xanax.”

The pharmacist also revealed a serious and deadly misconception which currently exists around ingestion of the drugs: “Some people would be under the mistaken impression you’re only at risk if you’re injecting opioids, but taking opioids orally, particularly if you’re someone who hasn’t used them before, you’re far more at risk of overdosing.” According to Jorna, the youth population is most at risk since they are opioid naïve, and for whom just one fake Xanax pill laced with fentanyl could result in a lethal overdose.

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