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The fake versions of anti-anxiety drug Alprazolam, sold under the trade name Xanax, are causing huge concern among the health professionals across the UK.

Recent BBC reports point to the rising number of deaths linked to Xanax and reveal that at least 204 people died in UK since 2015 because of the misuse of this drug and its counterfeit versions.

The coroner for Northern Ireland calls the Xanax-related deaths as “an escalating crisis” as the death toll had risen from 2015’s one to 26 in 2017. According to BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, 126 fatalities happened in Scotland between 2015 and 2017. Most of the victims are teenagers or people in their early twenties.

“The alprazolam powder is being obtained from the Far East, I was told in one inquest, and then pressed in the UK and sold on the dark web,” BBC quotes Joe McCrisken.

Xanax is a widely prescribed drug in the United States while it can be obtained through private prescriptions in the UK. As this medicine is not available through NHS, McCrisken assumes that counterfeit versions are the reason for all the deaths reported in Northern Ireland.

MHRA and the Border Force confirm that nearly 340,000 counterfeit Xanax bars were seized at UK airports and ports. The Public Health Wales’ 2018 report states counterfeit Xanax as the “most commonly identified” classes of psychoactive substances citing an analysis by the Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project’s (WEDINOS) drug testing service.

“We had a number of drug deaths over the Christmas period and I’ve heard Xanax being mentioned as one of the drugs that has been taken,” Dr Michael McKenna, a GP at Falls surgery in Belfast, told BBC adding that we’ll know the facts “when the post-mortem findings come out.”