Although the opioid epidemic is still unfortunately rampant, another drug has recently popped up on college campuses and popular culture as a whole. That drug is Xanax, a derivative of the housewife drug Valium, first prescribed in the 1960’s. Valium and other similar drugs, belonging to the classification benzodiazepines, have been silently popular since their inception, but have witnessed a sharp increase in popularity quite recently. Benzodiazepines are sedative, anti-anxiety drugs that include Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam), of which Xanax is irrevocably the most popular. They are used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures. While those are the intended purposes, many users also take the drugs for their soothing and numbing effects on both brain and body; they are also utilized by many millennials as a way to “come down,” after being on psychedelics or uppers.
Benzodiazepines (also called benzos) are so insidious because of their ubiquity in popular culture and also a benign connotation because of their legality. While many young adults are buying Xanax illegally from friends or drug dealers, the origins of these pills are primarily legal (i.e. people are selling prescriptions they obtained with reported problems as simplistic and widespread as generalized anxiety). There are many pills being sold on the dark web as well, with manufacturers often pressing alprazolam (or other benzodiazepine) powder into casing typical for “bars” (the street name for 2mg Xanax pills popular for their rectangular shape and powerful effects). This is especially terrifying because it is incredibly easy to press more than 2mg into a bar (or to press the bar with laced materials, such as fentanyl), which is an already high dose. When a large amount of Xanax is consumed, it robs the user of basic mental abilities and motor skills. If you are concerned your loved one is using Xanax, look for vacant eyes, sleepiness, slurred speech, impaired motor skills and vision, reduced inhibition (people high on Xanax will often do or say things entirely out of character, because even normal, appropriate anxiety is taken away when given enough of the drug) and increased hostility or bluntness. These effects are exacerbated when the pill is taken with alcohol, as it is often consumed, especially on college campuses. It is also not uncommon for Xanax to be used as a date rape drug, put into individual drinks or the “jungle juice” buckets and coolers that litter American universities.
So what put it in millennials’ heads to take Xanax in the first place? Besides its incredible prevalence (often, teenagers have to look no further than their parents’ medicine cabinet to try the drug), Xanax has become incredibly popular in television, movie and especially, music culture. Rappers, primarily, glorify use of the drug in songs like “56 Nights,” in which rapper Future claims to have taken “56 bars all in one month.” Rap culture has an undeniable effect on which drugs are used and how often. A spike in codeine, molly and marijuana usage has been witnessed over the past years in which rappers (and their lyrics) have become increasingly centered on said drugs.
But some rappers, and other public figures, are beginning to publicly decry the drug and and debunk its harmless status. Chance the Rapper has publicly claimed Xanax to be the new heroin and has spoken to the havoc it wreaked in his own life in several songs. Former member of Fleetwood Mac Stevie Nicks is also unabashed in bashing benzos, citing her addiction to Klonopin as the worst time in her life and the reason why she never married or had children and likening her condition while under the influence of Klonopin to be akin to that of a “zombie.” The backlash from these two stars is a humble beginning in battling the drug and its addictive propensities, but it's a necessary start. Of the 22,000 deaths that resulted from prescription drug overdoses last year, 31 percent of those were benzo-related. Additionally horrifying, is the fact that benzodiazepines are incredibly hard to withdraw from, with effects as severe as psychosis, seizures and death. With that said, if you or a loved one is suffering from benzo addiction, find help immediately and do not try to wean yourself off cold turkey as that will liken adverse side effects.