Xannies, Bars, Z-Bars, Zanbars, Xanbars, Handlebars, Planks, Bricks, Benzos.
These are all slang terms for anti-anxiety drug Xanax that doubles as a recreational drug of choice for many young high school students – one that authorities are encouraging parents talk to their kids about after fentanyl was found in counterfeit Xanax in a high school in B.C. last week.
Cheap to get and easy to take, the tranquilizer comes in legitimate versions – by prescription – and illicit versions from unregulated sources potentially cut with other substances. Both versions look identical to the untrained eye.
“We are in a terrible place right now where fentanyl has so saturated the drug market there really is no safe place to experiment. Trying drugs now is an enormous life-threatening gamble,” said fentanyl expert Staff Sgt. Conor King, VicPD.
The pills brought to the Delta school by a student last week were purchased illicitly as Xanax. The pills were confiscated, and found to contain fentanyl.
This latest news presents a scary new twist in the opioid crisis.
“It should be assumed that all illicit drugs contain fentanyl, and therefore have the potential to be fatal,” Jen Hill, communications manager for the Delta School District, said in an email to Black Press Media.
After a Grade 10 Belmont student died of a suspected overdose in June, Black Press talked with four West Shore high school students about their drug use and what types of drugs they are seeing other students use.
One said teens can buy Xanax, or a knock-off of the drug, on the streets for $3, which he alluded to being cut with other unknown substances due to the price.
All four teens noted drugs are easily accessible and they would be able to get their hands on them if they wanted to.
Victoria police have seen a rise in consumption and overdoses related to Xanax in high school age youth in the last two a half years.
“A major concern is when it is mixed with alcohol. That’s when things can get bad rapidly,” said King. “Think of teenagers in the realm of a house party. Drug experimentation commonly goes hand-in-hand with alcohol use, but this can cause a magnification of affects and run risk of an overdose, shutting down their heart and lungs.”
In Oak Bay, the high school PAC struck a Health and Wellness Committee in December 2017, in response to reports from parents and administration concerning Grade 9 and 10 students overdosing on Xanax.
“The parents would be called to pick their child up from the hospital and they would hear from the emergency doctors things like ‘this is the tenth kid this week’,” Gabriela Hirt, co-chair of the Health and Wellness Committee, told Black Press in an interview earlier this year. “But it was really anecdotal. There were no statistics.”
So the committee was formed and research on best-policies was undertaken. The parents called on the school district and the B.C Government to make changes to drug-related policies and support in schools.
King recommends parents have frank conversations with their teenagers.
“Be willing to talk to your kids about what they see when they are out at parties, what they are interested in trying. Fentanyl is so toxic at such low doses that experimenting can be fatal,” King said. “I’ve had opportunity to talk to a lot of parents and teens and that message is really resonating with youth in high schools who are seeing that as a reality.
“There is a good number who refuse to experiment with something because it might cost them their lives.”
School District 62 published an information guide about Xanax in June, including signs and symptoms of overdose.
Overdose signs include extreme drowsiness, fainting or loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, loss of coordination, and confusion.
If someone has signs and symptoms of acute toxicity they need urgent medical assistance.
– with files from Grace Kennedy