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Xanax drug - which council says is on the rise in North East - 'linked to 204 deaths' since 2015; BBC figures show Xanax is connected 204 deaths, most of which are in Scotland, while counterfeit versions of the drug are being smuggled into UK.

Byline: Simon Meechan

A drug which Gateshead council warned is on the rise in the North East has been connected to more than 200 UK deaths in four years, according to figures seen by the BBC.

Xanax, a tranquilizer which can be legally prescribed to treat anxiety, was linked to 204 deaths since 2015,figures seen by BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programmeshow, while border officials have intercepted millions of pounds worth of counterfeit Xanax pills bound for British streets.

Most of the deaths occurred in Scotland between 2015 and 2017.

Last month aGateshead council reportrevealed there has been an increase in drug related deaths in the area, with 35 suspected in the borough in 2017.

The report named Xanax - otherwise known as alprazolam - as a drug that has appeared more in recent years.

It stated that 29 of those whose deaths were linked to drugs were men, with an average age of 46.

At the meeting on Thursday, January 31,Gatesheadcouncil's community safety coordinator Nicola Johnson said: "The average life expectancy is 80, that's 35 people last year who lost their lives to drugs 35 years early."

Although Xanax can be prescribed legally, it is not available on theNHS. Some private healthcare providers can prescribe the medication in the UK.

Xanax - which is a brand name for alprazolam - is sometimes abused by recreational drug users, who take it to feel relaxed or sleepy.

According to drug charity, Frank, Xanax is similar to Valium/diazepam, but around 20 times stronger, with a faster but shorter-lasting effect.

Suspected drugs deaths in Gateshead on the rise - as US tranquillizer and crack cocaine appear in area

Long-term use can lead to dependency, while overdosing or mixing with alcohol can trigger problems, breathing issues and death.

Smugglers have targeted the UK with counterfeit versions of the drug. Border Force seized [pounds sterling]1m worth of fake Xanax bars since 2016,BBC reports.

In 2018, customs officers confiscated 340,000 counterfeit Xanax pills, according to Border Force/Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) figures cited by BBC.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the company which developed Xanax, said it is "alarmed" by counterfeit alprazolam and is working with Border Force and police.

It told BBC that Xanax is controlled, subject to strict regulations and should only prescribed by qualified healthcare professionals

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Credit: Burton

Xanax bar pills

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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 6, 2019
Words:390
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