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Xanax often abused for easy 'high'

MSN & NBC News · January 29, 2002

Misuse of prescription drugs a growing problem: Xanax slows down the central nervous system, triggering an alcohol-like high, creating a state of euphoria, lowering inhibitions and increasing sociability.

The arrest of the president's niece Noelle Bush for prescription fraud comes amid growing concern over the abuse of prescription drugs. NBC's Robert Hager reports.

Abuse of prescription drugs, such as the popular anti-anxiety drug Xanax, has become a serious public health concern, with an estimated 9 million Americans misusing various mind-altering medications.

In fact, three out of every four drugs that are used illegally in the United States are prescription medications.

"The incidence of non-medical use of prescription drugs has doubled in the past decade," said Glen Hanson, acting director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). "It's something we need to be concerned about."

NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, launched a campaign to fight prescription drug misuse and addiction last April.

Xanax is one of the most commonly misused prescription drugs, Hanson said, because it's so readily available. A sedative similar to Valium used to treat anxiety, panic attacks and sleep disorders, it's one of the top-selling drugs in the United States.


Experts say among those who abuse it, Xanax has a reputation for causing a "high." It slows down the central nervous system, triggering an alcohol-like high - creating a state of euphoria, lowering inhibitions and increasing sociability, Hanson said.


In Philadelphia, recently, 28 young teenagers took powerful doses of Xanax during lunch period at a middle school and 12 had to be treated at a hospital.

And in Houston, last week, four students were rushed to a hospital after taking Xanax at another middle school.

Baseball's Darryl Strawberry once admitted mixing Xanax with cocaine.

And Washington's former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry has said Xanax was among drugs he was addicted to a decade ago.

The problem's so severe that some lawmakers have been calling for new tighter government control over prescription drugs that are appealing to abusers.

When used inappropriately, Xanax can be psychologically and physically addictive, and can cause severe symptoms of withdrawal. And when mixed with alcohol, it can be fatal.

"When people start escalating dosages and self-medicating, they can very quickly become addicted and it can be a very dangerous addiction," said drug expert and author Rod Colvin.

On the street, it's cheap, selling for about $1 to $3 a pill, making it an affordable fix for young people, who call the pills "Xanies" or "Blues."

"They don't have to deal with a dirty drug dealer like they might have to with cocaine or marijuana or heroin," said Joe Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. "They're available in medicine cabinets of all their friends' parents and their parents probably."

Adults usually don't have trouble getting prescriptions for the drug.

Dr. David Smith, founder and president of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco, expressed surprise that Noelle Bush, the daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was arrested early Tuesday morning for calling in a fake a prescription for Xanax, had to resort to such a measure.

"People of her class usually have easy access to it," he said. "Forging a prescription usually indicates substantial drug abuse problems."


Xanax is the brand name for the anti-anxiety drug known generically as alprazolam, widely prescribed for treating anxiety, panic attacks and sleep disorders.

It's a member of a class of tranquilizers known as benzodiazepines, which includes Valium and Halcion.

Xanax is commonly misused to create an alcohol-like high, with feelings of euphoria and increased sociability.

Use can lead to profound psychological and physical dependence, including severe symptoms of withdrawal.

NBC's Robert Hager and MSNBC.com's Julia Sommerfeld contributed to this report.

Gov. Jeb Bush's daughter arrested in Xanax Prescription Fraud,
MSN & NBC News, January 29, 2002.

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