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HDA UK Media And Political Bulletin – 12 February 2018

Media and Political Bulletin

12 February 2018

Media Summary

NPA announces appointment of new chief executive

National Pharmacy Association, 9 February 2018

 

The National Pharmacy Association has announced that Mark Lyonette is to join the Association as chief executive, from June 2018. Mark is currently chief executive of the Association of British Credit Unions.

NPA chairman Ian Strachan said of the appointment:

“Mark brings with him a great deal of experience of running trade associations, membership bodies and leading a complex, regulated sector through change. The NPA Board has asked him to further develop the capabilities and performance of the NPA in order to help transform the prospects of the pharmacy sector. We therefore look forward eagerly to his arrival in June.”

 

 

Xanax and teenagers: the facts

The Times, Rachel Carlyle, 10 February 2018

 

In its weekend supplement, The Times reported on the rise of the use of Xanax among teenagers in the UK. The prescription anti-anxiety medicine has rapidly established itself on the teenage party scene.

 

The drug is exceptionally addictive and potentially dangerous. Last week six pupils from Burntwood School, a well-regarded girls’ secondary school in southwest London, were admitted to hospital after taking Xanax during their lunch break. This came after a spate of hospital admissions from “Xans” or “Xannies” over Christmas in Sussex, Somerset, Kent and Cumbria.

 

“Its availability in the UK has really rocketed in a very short time,” says Nick Hickmott from the charity Addaction.

 

Xanax, or alprazolam, is part of the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which also includes Valium. It isn’t prescribed on the NHS (although it is available on private prescription), but is used to treat anxiety disorders in the US and is 10 to 20 times as strong as diazepam (Valium).

 

Parliamentary Coverage

 

There is no parliamentary coverage today.

 

Full Coverage

NPA announces appointment of new chief executive

National Pharmacy Association, 9 February 2018

 

Mark Lyonette is to join the National Pharmacy Association as chief executive, from June 2018. Mark is currently chief executive of the Association of British Credit Unions.

NPA chairman Ian Strachan said:

“Mark brings with him a great deal of experience of running trade associations, membership bodies and leading a complex, regulated sector through change. The NPA Board has asked him to further develop the capabilities and performance of the NPA in order to help transform the prospects of the pharmacy sector. We therefore look forward eagerly to his arrival in June.”

Mark Lyonette said:

“I am delighted to be joining the NPA later this year. It is an honour to have the opportunity to serve the thousands of independent community pharmacies who rely on the NPA to provide essential services, a strong voice and a vehicle for collective progress. I am looking forward to working with the board and the executive team to strengthen the NPA, and develop this vital service for its members.”

 

Xanax and teenagers: the facts

The Times, Rachel Carlyle, 10 February 2018

 

If you were to invent a drug designed to frighten parents, it may look something like Xanax, the prescription anti-anxiety medicine that’s rapidly established itself on the teenage party scene.

For a start, the distinctive white oblong tablets come in a clinical-looking blister pack, not a grubby bag, and their status as a medicine gives them the illusion of safety and legality to naive teenagers. In fact it’s a Class C drug. They’re also cheap, costing about £1 a pill, are available on the internet and are not easy for parents to detect because there’s no smell or drug paraphernalia.

They are, however, exceptionally addictive and potentially dangerous. Last week six pupils from Burntwood School, a well-regarded girls’ secondary school in southwest London, were admitted to hospital after taking Xanax during their lunch break. This came after a spate of hospital admissions from “Xans” or “Xannies” over Christmas in Sussex, Somerset, Kent and Cumbria.

“Its availability in the UK has really rocketed in a very short time,” says Nick Hickmott from the charity Addaction. “Some of what we’re seeing is teenage experimentation, but there’s also an element of self-medication among teenagers who feel very pressured.”

Xanax, or alprazolam, is part of the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which also includes Valium. It isn’t prescribed on the NHS (although it is available on private prescription), but is used to treat anxiety disorders in the US and is 10 to 20 times as strong as diazepam (Valium). In clinical use, the maximum dose is usually 4mg, or two “bars” (tablets), a day. It’s a sedative that takes away inhibitions and can make users feel less anxious.

Many teenagers are taking it with cannabis or alcohol at parties to intensify the sedative effect, or with caffeinated energy drinks, or in some cases with the prescription drug modafinil to counter the calming effect. “You become sedated and lethargic as Xanax slows down your central nervous system and heartbeat,” Hickmott says. “The first time, blackouts and memory loss are common.”

Teenagers will generally break a bar into four along its vertical lines and share it out, taking between half a tablet and two tablets over the course of a party. You build up tolerance quickly and it’s extremely addictive. “If someone takes a couple of tablets the first time, the next time they might take the same again, but the third time they will need to take more to get the same effect,” Hickmott says. “Withdrawal also comes quickly. If I could tell teenagers one thing it would be not to mix Xanax with alcohol, even on different days, because the drug stays in your system for around 50 hours and you could overdose.”

That’s because Xanax and alcohol work on the same part of the brain, Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London, says. “Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are potent sedatives and work on the GABA receptors in the brain, so mixing them magnifies that sedative effect and therefore magnifies the harm.”

Possible long-term effects of taking Xanax regularly include memory problems and depression, and withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, tremors, numbness and muscle pain.

Last week Dr Bowden-Jones opened the UK’s first NHS clinic for addiction to online-purchased prescription medicines in London, and Xanax has been a hot topic. He worries that it’s the young and naive who are particularly attracted to it. “Buying drugs on the internet is attracting new people who might not otherwise be tempted,” he says. “The fact it is a medicine rather than an illicit drug can make users feel it is safe. That’s reinforced by the ability to buy it with a credit card from the safety of their own home, rather than by meeting a dealer down an alley.”

Much of the supply in the UK is thought to be fake, because the drug isn’t readily available here. “Unfortunately, people don’t really know what they are getting,” Dr Bowden-Jones says. “It might be Xanax, it might have another chemical substituted for the alprazolam, or it might have no medicine at all.”

Some teenagers get Xanax from local dealers, but others are clubbing together to buy packs over the internet via Instagram and Snapchat, where dealers advertise, from US online pharmacies or on the dark web using bitcoins.

Mandy Saligari, an addiction specialist and clinical director of the Charter Harley Street rehab centre in London, says that, in her experience, teenagers who take Xanax tend not to take other drugs and may be on the periphery of the “cool” crowd. “It’s not the ones out there taking cocaine who are taking Xanax, it’s the next social layer down, who are using Xanax so they can feel part of the crowd,” she says.

This is echoed by parents who describe their teenagers’ slightly clumsy efforts to get hold of Xanax. One mother found herself receiving an online-pharmacy package addressed to her daughter, who was at school, leading to a tearful confession that evening. Another twigged when her 17-year-old son was more uncommunicative than usual the day after a sixth-form party. “It was like he was behind a wall almost,” she says. “He could hardly speak and seemed not really there — much worse than a hangover. In the end he admitted he’d taken two Xanax tablets at the party.”

There may not be tell-tale smells like cannabis, but you’ll often know if they’ve taken it. Saligari says: “They’ll do more than slur their speech as if drunk. They’re anaesthetised to a degree: muted, not responding. If it’s weed they have more of a sparkle in their eye, and will want to talk about life and meaning. With Xanax they seem blurred at the edges and they’ll be sluggish next day.”

Other signs to look out for include your teenager sleeping longer than usual, having bumps and grazes from falling over, and seeming moodier and more withdrawn.

Dr Bowden-Jones, who wrote The Drug Conversation (RCPsych, £12.99) to help parents, says that the key is to understand why your teenager may be taking it. “Some people are attracted to drugs to enjoy the feeling of disinhibition,” he says. “Others use drugs to take away feelings they don’t want — anxiety, panic or low mood.”

HDA UK Media And Political Bulletin – 12 February 2018

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