Florida AG warns about another dangerous drug on market: fake Xanax, ‘benzo dope’

(The Center Square) – Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning Floridians and Americans about another illicit drug on the market: fake Xanax, known as “benzo dope.”

In an alert, she said there’s an increase in the number of deaths nationwide from bromazolam, a potent benzodiazepine, which is reportedly being mixed with illicit fentanyl, she said.

“It is imperative that Floridians understand how dangerous bromazolam is on its own,” Moody said. “It is also reportedly mixed with fentanyl, leading to adverse health conditions, overdoses and even deaths – including here in Florida. Please, never use an illicit substance. Just one pill can kill.”

“Bromazolam is a ‘designer’ triazolobenzodiazepine synthesized in 1976 but never approved for therapeutic use,” the CDC warned in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released earlier this month. “Since its first detection in Sweden in 2016, a significant increase has persisted in both the toxicologic identification of bromazolam in combination with fentanyl and its identification in counterfeit benzodiazepine preparations.”

Benzodiazepines are “a class of medications that work in the central nervous system and are used for a variety of medical conditions, such as anxiety, seizures, and for alcohol withdrawal,” Drugs.com explains. Common examples are Xanax (generic: alprazolam), Valium, (generic: diazepam) and Ativan (generic: lorazepam).

Moody pointed to a 2022 Center for Forensic Science Research and Education alert stating, “bromazolam has been identified in more than 250 toxicology cases submitted to NMS Labs, including both antemortem and postmortem investigations.” Bromazolam had also been identified in more than 190 toxicology samples the center tested. In the first quarter of 2021, the center found a 1% increase in positivity of the drug in its toxicology samples; by the second quarter of 2022, it found a 13% increase.

“More significantly, co-detections with fentanyl have increased in recent months to more than 75% for bromazolam positive samples,” it reported. Bromazolam had also been confirmed in counterfeit benzodiazepine preparations at the CFSRE, it said.

The CFSRE also reported that bromazolam accounted for 4% of novel benzodiazepines in circulation in 2021. It now estimates that bromazolam’s presence increased to 73% of the supply of novel benzodiazepines through the first six months of 2023.

The CFSRE reported that 83% of its samples tested positive for fentanyl, prompting Moody to issue her alert.

Adverse effects from taking the drug, CFSRE said, “include loss of coordination, drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, slurred speech, muscle relaxation, respiratory depression, and, in some cases, death.”

It emphasized that these “factors make their presence in forensic cases of high importance, paired with increasing concerns over combinations of benzodiazepines with opioids, colloquially known as ‘benzo-dope.’”

Health authorities have found that naloxone, which has been successful in reversing opioid overdoses if administered quickly enough, does not reverse benzodiazepine overdoses.

The CDC reported that the number of law enforcement seizures in the U.S. that involved bromazolam increased from “no more than three per year during 2016–2018 to 2,142 in 2022, and 2,913 in 2023.”

It also said, “It is essential that physicians, medical examiners, toxicology laboratories, public health officials, and emergency responders be aware of the increased presence of bromazolam both in polydrug ingestions and in substance use disorder patients who report the use of benzodiazepines.”

Moody’s office has published a Dose of Reality website to educate Floridians, and Americans, about the dangers of illicit substances, how and where to receive support.

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