General News — 18 July 2012

An invisible but potentially lethal epidemic involving the anti-anxiety drug Xanax is unfolding across Australia, the nation’s top legal, medical and drug treatment experts have warned.

Xanax, which has the generic name alprazolam, is commonly prescribed to treat anxiety but experts say that it is as addictive as heroin and harder to stop using.

A special committee of the Therapeutic Drugs Administration has twice reviewed Xanax to consider tougher restrictions on its availability – but ruled against the move both times.

However, a TGA report that has been seen by The Saturday Age says that the drug is addictive and “once dependent, withdrawal is markedly unpleasant and may be fatal”.

It is also ”over represented in deaths or injury from overdose, suicide, motor-vehicle collisions and crimes”.

The report says patients who overdosed on alprazolam were twice as likely to require admission to intensive care as those taking other benzodiazepines such as valium.

Now, many are calling on the Commonwealth to tighten prescribing regulations.

“Time and again, drug offenders would tell me it was much easier to say no to heroin than to Xanax,” says magistrate Margaret Harding who, until three months ago, presided over the Victorian Drug Court. “The TGA must step in.” Alan Eade, a senior intensive care paramedic with Ambulance Victoria says that there is a “vast, invisible, middle-class group” of Xanax addicts who are being prescribed Xanax by their GPs.

“Their doctors don’t understand they are creating this potentially lethal problem … and the users don’t know this when they take a few pills with a few drinks,” Eade said.

A spokeswoman for the TGA said that no application had been received by the TGA to reschedule Xanax. She said that there had been 271 adverse drug reaction reports associated with the drug since 1983.

In a statement to The Saturday Age, Pfizer, which markets Xanax in Australia, said: “It is important that doctors are aware of the benefits and risks of using Xanax (alprazolam tablets) and communicate these to patients before prescribing the product.”

As first appeared in The Age, 14 July 2012


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