Ativan, like Xanax, is in the benzodiazepine family and is meant for one-time use in cases of panic attacks. Recreational Xanax use has become trendy among youth drawing huge concern to many in Kahnawake. (Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)
“I seen it happening like every day,” said Chloe (not the student’s real name) a high school student from Kahnawake, who witnessed fellow students taking Xanax as a recreational drug to get high.
“We had to have clear water bottles because there were so many kids dropping it in their waters,” the student is now at Kahnawake Survival School, but was previously at a school out of town where they witnessed the drug abuse.
A local bartender told The Eastern Door, they witnessed someone take the drug with alcohol, with frightening results.
“She did Xanax, and she couldn’t really keep her head up,” the person said. “She couldn’t sit up properly. She was falling asleep. She would go and lay down and slept for about 13 hours straight after that.”
Xanax abuse is a huge concern, and prevention workers at Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) are seeing Xanax addicts at concerning rates.
“We are getting a lot of reports from people who work with youth that this is a popular drug among youth right now,” said KSCS prevention worker Jessica Oesterreich. “What’s really worrying about that is that these aren’t pharmaceutical grade Xanax pills that our teens are buying. They’re actually counterfeit drugs, so there’s a whole other layer of danger in there.”
Proxim Old Malone Pharmacy pharmacist Tiffany Yeung explained that alprazolam, the technical name for Xanax, is not meant for sustained use. Those suffering from depression or anxiety often take a different antidepressant to deal with the illness, while benzodiazepines (Xanax’s category of drugs) are used short term to deal with immediate issues.
“Anything like this is like a band aid, it’s for when you’re having a panic attack to help out immediately, whereas you’d be on other medications to help control it (depression or anxiety), so that you wouldn’t need the Xanax all the time,” said Yeung.
Yeung explained that Xanax makes users drowsy, and mixing the medication with other drugs or alcohol can cause very problematic short and long-term issues.
“If you take it with alcohol, you’re compounding the effects; drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, things like that, but long-term, if you take things like that every day for a long period of time, you’re going to start getting memory problems, and confusion related to that,” said Yeung. “You’re not going to be able to remember things as well and maybe you’re confused about what happened.”
The doubling of substances comes with a higher risk of overdose or alcohol poisoning as the effects are compounded, and the combo can also mimic the Rohypnol (roofie) effect.
“When you do take a very high dose of Xanax, you’re very likely to pass out, which puts young people at a risk of sexual assault,” said Oesterreich.
The bartender The Eastern Door interviewed saw the effects in person.
“She was completely out of it. She couldn’t focus, and she’d fall asleep,” the bartender said, who was with a group of friends that went to McDonald’s for food, and the person high on Xanax couldn’t even eat the McFlurry she bought.
“She would try to put it in her mouth and it would just drip out,” said the bartender. “She wasn’t able to do anything, and she would try to string a sentence together and it wouldn’t come out. Honestly, it was pretty scary.”
High doses regularly of Xanax also come with a serious risk of addiction.
“People who are misusing it are using very high doses, and at times they’re using them for consecutive days,” said Oesterreich. “When it’s misused like that, it’s very addictive and very hard to stop using; the withdrawal symptoms are very hard to manage, and you can’t stop taking it cold turkey. You would have to be weaned off with the help of a doctor.”
The problem is compounded as many purchase counterfeit pills with higher potency, often mixed with other problematic chemicals.
“The dose you think you’re buying isn’t a guarantee,” said Oesterreich. “Also, we are hearing through agencies like the RCMP that when they are raiding illegal Xanax labs that they’re quite often finding fentanyl being mixed in with these counterfeit Xanax pills.”
Peacekeeper chief Dwayne Zacharie said the highly addictive opioid (fentanyl) is everywhere now.
“I have no doubt that many, many of the drugs people are ingesting are, for lack of a better term, laced with fentanyl, for sure,” said Zacharie. “They’re cutting it with everything.”
Oesterreich said teens are often taking multiple high doses – as high as three or four times what a doctor would prescribe.
Survival School graduating student Kenzie Kane said she saw Xanax and Molly (also called MDMA or ecstasy) used often at parties in the past, but that more and more kids are trying cocaine.
“It’s just a scary thing to see someone do,” she said. “Like a white substance that you have no clue what’s in it or how it’s made. You never know how the person is going to react after taking the drug. Like what they’re going to do when they’re high.”
Another young person contacted by The Eastern Door said, “everyone does coke” and that it’s “the new weed.”
Oesterreich said counterfeit Xanax is seeing a rise across North America and Britain.
The drug is small, easy to ship, has no smell and can be taken inconspicuously.
“I remember a kid asked for a sip of somebody’s water not knowing there was Xanax in it, and the person let him drink a bunch without him knowing,” said Chloe.
Though fentanyl is a growing issue locally, Oesterreich said KSCS is seeing far more Xanax addiction in Kahnawake.
Possessing or distributing a prescription drug that is not yours is a crime, Zacharie reminded.
He added more awareness about drugs and their effects is badly needed.
“The biggest thing is education, and there’s not a lot of education going on,” Zacharie added. “We want to start to develop some kind of a program where we can educate people and tell them the dangers of it.”
Knowing how prevalent drugs like cocaine and Xanax are among young people in Kahnawake is something of grave concern for KSCS and the PKs.
“It’s absolutely terrifying,” said Zacharie.