16/02/2018 16:32 GMT | Updated 16/02/2018 16:32 GMT

Xanax Use Among Young People Needs To Be Treated As A Public Mental Health Issue

Xanax, or ‘Xanny’, as I was corrected by an 18-year-old, is a benzodiazepine, twenty times the strength of Valium and is a Class C drug

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Until the Government acts, we won’t know exactly why our young people are using the powerful sedative ‘Xanax’. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the mental health crisis in our classrooms is causing teens to self-medicate to deal with anxiety. But a mother from Enfield Southgate, who asked for my help with her daughter, had a far more sinister story to tell about Xanax.

Zoey, her 14-year-old daughter, was going missing at weekends and coming home with no recollection of what had happened. She seemingly had been groomed by a group of young adults after she fell out with her close friends at school. Zoey and her best friend were being given Xanax and alcohol and taken to raves across North London. This new, exciting lifestyle and escapism was seductive to them. But this came at a cost. The cocktail puts people into a ‘zombie-like’ state and leaves them incredibly vulnerable. Over six months, both girls’ mental health and behaviour spiralled and they were eventually kicked out of school. One of their final warnings came when they were found high on drugs at school, and although special support services were put in place and abduction warning notices served on some of the adults the girls were hanging out with, they weren’t enough to get the girls back on track.

Before Zoey’s mother had come to me for help, I had never heard of Xanax. Since then, I have found that every young person I have spoken to knows all about it. Xanax, or ‘Xanny’, as I was corrected by an 18-year-old, is a benzodiazepine, twenty times the strength of Valium and is a Class C drug. It is not prescribed on the NHS but it’s still easy to get hold of. Apparently, a booth in a fast food restaurant in my constituency is a Xanax outlet. Even easier than that, you can buy a pill online for less than £1. We know all too well that looking to the police to stop its widespread use is not going to solve the problem. This needs to be treated as a public mental health issue.

A month ago, I held a debate in Parliament to highlight Xanax abuse in the UK. This was the first time it has ever been spoken about in the Commons. I spoke in depth about Zoey’s case and the Xanax phenomenon that had started in the USA, where it has been so heavily glamourised by rap artists. Most media coverage on Xanax has been limited to the sad death of the young rapper ‘Lil Peep’ from a Xanax overdose. The shocking selfie video on Youtube shows the zombie-like state that he was in when he took a Xanax overdose. Six hours later, he was dead.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Steve Brine MP, responded during the debate, but gave no extra commitments from the Government. Since then, I have been contacted by organisations describing the anecdotal evidence of the problems that this drug abuse is causing and by individuals who are suffering from addiction after misusing their legally and privately prescribed Xanax.

It is abundantly clear that the Government needs to understand how widespread Xanax misuse and abuse is. We need to find out why our young people are taking it and what the possible long term effects are. An awareness campaign needs to be pushed now and I am hoping that the spotlight I have shone on Xanax is the firing shot to this campaign. Good mental health may be the best prevention, but we need specialist services put in place for those who have sadly already developed a dependency.