“Legal” drugs that can kill you – phenazepam and other disasters (7/20/11)
So Many Ways To Die
The saying is true – it’s all available on the Net –including legal drugs that can end your life. One of them, phenazepam, is usually made in Russia, and is available legally without prescription throughout much of the world – because it’s not on the list of controlled substances for many nations. That inclues the US. Recently University of Dundee forensic pathologist Richard Maskell and his group found phenazepam in 9 people dead from overdose.(http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d4207.extract?sid=9e4e0737-9de3-455a-b849-40c0ec155b70)
What Is Phenazepam?
A valium like benzodiazepine drug with a pharmaceutical half life of 60 hours – which means it lasts and lasts and lasts in your system – with half of it gone in 2.5 days, three quarters gone in 5 days, seventh eighths gone in 7.5 days…
Why Is It Dangerous?
Benzodiazepines are most commonly used as anti-anxiety or sleeping pills, but relax muscles and give many people a “buzz.” All benzodiazepines can be abused – not only causing sedation, disinhibition and confusion, but in high dose death. The problem is particularly acute when adding alcohol – a major way people committed suicide in the 60’s and 70’s and more recently an inadvertent way to end. Many a celebrity has been found with a combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol at their post-mortem. People also do not know that alcohol at midnight has 2-3 times the psychomotor effects compared with drinking at 6 PM. That’s scary because relatively low, often forgotten doses of long acting drugs like phenazepam (“Gosh – I took that days ago”) can in combination with late night alcohol lead to fatal accidents. I and many other clinicians have seen that result.
Who Can Get These Drugs Over the Internet?
Anybody. That’s why former secretary of Health Education and Welfare Joseph Califano has said “The Internet is still a pharmaceutical candy store for any teenager who wants to get drugs.” And it’s also true for any adult.
What Other Drugs Can You Get Over the Net?
Anything not specifically banned. That includes all “research chemicals” made by both certified and non-certified labs. Popular drugs right now are cannabinoids that have similar effects to the active ingredient in marijuana, but are presently still legal in most states. Many are sold as incense, or as “herbal” drugs. You put down your credit card and UPS brings them to your home. Fortunately, many states are now banning them, and the Federal government can use the “Analog Act” to pursue new drugs that are fundamentally copies of previously banned drugs (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/us/17salts.html?scp=1&sq=bath%20salts&st=cse). As the New York Time has recently reported, the epidemic of psychosis producing substituted cathinone “bath salts” has now prompted action by many states.
However, lots of drugs beat the “Analog” restriction for years, especially when the market is relatively small. That happens with some new anabolic steroids, routinely used by athletes or body builders to get their “edge.” They buy them on the net, like the effects, tell their friends – and a successful “product” begins its run.
Do You Always Get What You Pay For?
Oh no. Many internet drugs are worthless, useless, and sometimes laced with other ingredients, like ephedrine or steroids, that in combination with whatever else people decide to take can provoke lethal effects. Sometimes the effects are as no one expected. One such drug was MPTP, an adulterant of a “designer drug” hallucinogen whose users went on to a rapid and very ugly version of Parkinson’s disease. The drug’s effect was so specific and so toxic it led to new scientific understanding of the disease.
Why Is It So Easy to Get These Drugs?
Because they are often experimental, not listed in any scientific literature, and therefore legal. Since the authorities don’t know they exist they are free to be used.
What Can Be Done to Ban Phenazepam and “Research Chemicals?”
As is the case with the new cannabinoids, some states have legislated a ban on particular classes of drugs – so that not yet created versions of older, toxic drugs will not themselves be legal. These more narrow versions of the Analog Act generally have more legal teeth. However, banning drugs of a chemical class not yet discovered is legally very difficult.
Is The Problem Soluble?
Only by continuous vigilance – as is the case with internet security. New drugs can and will be produced. Previously they were difficult to distribute. Now they can go rapidly anywhere in the world through the Net – and make people lots of money before medical or political authorities know anyone is using them.
For many the news of their dangers proves too late.
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