Clinic set up for teenagers sees high number of adults seeking treatment after illicitly buying drugs such as Xanax to treat anxiety
A pioneering clinic set up to help teenagers addicted to Xanax and other prescription drugs is being sought out by adults who use pills purchased illicitly on the internet.
At the beginning of the year Dr Owen Bowden-Jones opened the Addiction to Online Medicine (Atom) service in London, a free, easy-to-access NHS clinic run by Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust that offers one-to-one meetings and group mindfulness sessions.
The clinic, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, was established in response to the growing problem of teenagers addicted to prescription drugs, particularly Xanax, bought illegally on the web.
What has surprised Bowden-Jones is that a third of current referrals are over 20. “When we established the clinic we were at the peak in terms of interest in Xanax and we were seeing a lot of young people using it,” he says. “But one of the cohorts we have seen are people in their 20s and 30s – people who are prescribed a medicine and then they seek it online, either because the dose they have is not enough or the medicine is stopped by their GP .”
He adds: “Teenagers tend to use [prescription drugs] for the intoxicating effect, to get giddy and drunk, but older people tend to use it to treat symptoms, particularly anxiety. We have had a number of patients with traumatic experiences and for them these medicines are being used to anaesthetise themselves.”
The adult group tend to use benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and tend to be women, he says. They have a job, have a partner, friends and a social network, “but have a secret that they have been buying drugs online and not telling people. They are often quite ashamed about it, but they found they cannot cope without prescription medicines.”
Benzodiazepines are currently prescribed on the NHS but are only supposed to be used in the short term. Research shows around four in every 10 people who take them every day for more than six weeks become addicted.
In the UK, alprazolam is not available on the NHS and can only be obtained on a private prescription. Tranquillisers are controlled under Class C of the Misuse of Drugs Act and possession without a prescription could lead to a prison sentence of up to 2 years and an unlimited fine.