Number of children needing treatment for tranquiliser addiction almost doubles
The number of children needing treatment for addiction to tranquilisers has almost doubled, figures show.
In 2016, 161 children under the age of 18 accessed public treatment services for benzodiazepine misuse.
This almost doubled to 315 young people requiring help last year.
The figures, released by Public Health England (PHE), show the number of youngsters seeking treatment for alprazolam – most commonly called Xanax – has risen by more than 500%.
Eight children sought help in 2016, increasing to 53 in 2017.
Benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia, and to control seizures caused by epilepsy.
The most frequently prescribed benzodiazepine in the UK is diazepam, known by its trade name Valium.
Alprazolam is a faster-acting drug and is about 10 times stronger, meaning that it can rapidly cause feelings of sedation, according to PHE.
Alprazolam is not available from the NHS, although it can be obtained on a private prescription in the UK.
But illicit alprazolam, usually in the form of counterfeit Xanax tablets, can be bought from street level drug markets and is also available to purchase from illegal websites and social media apps.
Dr Mateen Durrani, group psychiatrist at UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT), warned of the medical dangers of early misuse of benzodiazepines.
He said: “Benzodiazepines work by literally slowing down the function of the brain.
“When taken, they enhance the actions of a chemical in the brain known as GABA, acting as a leveller in times of high stress, over-excitement or anxiety.
“When GABA levels are artificially increased by Benzos, serious side effects can occur, including slurring words or even total blackouts.
“Unfortunately, at UKAT, we’re seeing more and more young people admitting themselves after becoming addicted to Benzos.
“In most cases, their misuse stemmed from using the drug recreationally at parties and mixing it with alcohol, which proves a toxic combination.”
UKAT has seven private residential rehab clinics across the UK, with admissions for Xanax addiction almost doubling in the last year.
Almost half of those admissions are for under 25-year-olds.
The figures show cannabis remains the most common drug by far, with 88% of young people in treatment seeking help for it.
Treatment for crack cocaine and ecstasy also increased in 2017 compared with the previous year.
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