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Darknet sales of prescription psychiatric drugs increasing in the UK

Published on 27/02/19 at 11:59am

Research from the University of Kent and King’s College London has revealed that UK sales of prescription psychiatric drugs, including those such as Xanax and diazepam which are often abused recreationally, are increasing through darknet online drug markets.

In the study, the researchers reviewed the sales of three key drug types – sedatives, stimulants and opioid dependency drugs – in 31 cryptomarkets across the UK, US and European countries including Germany and Spain between September 2013 and July 2016.

It was found that the proportion of sedatives like Xanax had increased by 0.9% per year in the UK throughout the monitored period to account for 12% of all darknet drug sales in the country, representing a greater proportion of sales than recreational drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and MDMA-type products.

In total, the UK sales of sedatives via the darknet accounted for nearly a third of all such sales across the geographic area examined in the study at 31.1%, placing the UK just behind the US’ 41.4% share. It was also shown that UK sales of Xanax are closing the gap with those of the more traditionally-used sedative diazepam, accounting for a quarter of all sedatives by the end of the study period.

The US was found to have the largest share of darknet sales for prescription psychiatric drugs, accounting for 59.2% of all stimulant sales and 64.4% of all opioid dependency drug sales, while sales of sedatives grew over the study period by 0.5%.

The research supports increasing concern over non-medical prescription drug use (NMPDU) in the UK and beyond, and provides a robust basis on which to push for policy change to counteract these shifting climates.

"The data shows that there is significant increase in the demand for nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the UK compared to other drugs in many advanced Western nations via the darknet,” explained Dr Jack Cunliffe from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at Kent. “Governments must recognise this and look to create policies that react to these trends, especially if they wish to avoid a prescription drugs crisis similar to that which is occurring in the USA."

Dr Cunliffe added: "Given that Xanax is not available in the UK on the NHS, the rising sales might have something to do with its notoriety in the USA, where its use is frequently glamorised in popular culture."

Matt Fellows

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