Pubdate: Fri, 01 Feb 2002
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2002 Orlando Sentinel
Author: Robyn Suriano


When Bryan stopped taking drugs six months ago, he got through the
worst of his heroin withdrawal in a week. It was Xanax that tortured
him for a full month.

He longed for the "benzos" -- slang for benzodiazepines, the class of
drugs that includes Xanax -- to take the edge off his skittishness,
sleeplessness and anxiety. Although Bryan used a variety of drugs for
about 12 years, he found Xanax one of the hardest to let go.

"Once you get fixated on downers like that, you don't stop easily,"
said Bryan, 29, who asked not to be identified by last name to protect
his business. "Especially if you're a high-strung individual, it just
gives you an extremely relaxing feeling."

Xanax is a prescription medication used to treat anxiety. It also is a
highly abused tranquilizer and the focus of a fraudulent prescription-
drug charge this week against Gov. Jeb Bush's 24-year-old daughter,

If convicted, officials said, Noelle Bush likely would be given
probation as a first-time offender.

She will not be required to appear in court personally until after
formal criminal charges are filed, a process that generally takes four
to six weeks, Assistant State Attorney Owen McCaul in Leon County said

Xanax Popularity Booms

Xanax and other prescription drugs are becoming increasingly popular
with young people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
A government survey in 2000 found that about 5 million Americans have
abused Xanax or a similar anti-anxiety drug at some point.

"It's basically the modern-day version of a Quaalude -- the mother's
little helper," said Lui Delgado, a certified addictions professional
and executive director of Quest Counseling Centre in Altamonte
Springs. "It's very common with young people, and it's very easy to

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a drug developed at least 20
years ago as an alternative to Valium, a widely prescribed sedative
that was considered too easily addictive. Both drugs can create
powerful addictions, and some say Xanax is worse than Valium.

"Xanax, in particular, is abused because it has a fairly quick uptake
into the system, and many people get a buzz from it," said Dr. Herndon
Harding, medical director of Florida Hospital's Center for Behavioral

Drug Reduces Brain Activity

Xanax works by depressing the central nervous system, enhancing the
effects of a chemical in the brain that slows down the firing of
neurons and reduces brain activity.

Bryan said that taking Xanax felt like having a few drinks, minus the
dizziness. He could get 100 pills for about $200, but the drug sells
for up to $5 a pill on the street. Most prescriptions call for no more
than 2 mg of Xanax a day. Because he had built up a tolerance, Bryan
needed about 10 mg to get the desired effect.

"They are so powerful, and the stronger the better when you're into
that stuff," said Bryan, who is going through a drug-rehabilitation
program and has not taken any drugs for six months. "We call them
'coffins' because they typically put you right in the coffin. They
make you sleep so well."

People can overdose on Xanax alone, although usually they get into
trouble by mixing it with other drugs or alcohol, said Dr. Richard
Saini, medical director of the chemical-dependency unit for Orlando
Regional Healthcare.

Because people develop a strong physical dependence on the drug, it's
not recommended that anyone stop taking it abruptly. Doctors slowly
decrease the dosage to avoid problems.

Risks Of Use, Withdrawal

If taken continuously at fairly high doses, there is a risk of
seizures and other serious symptoms of withdrawal, Saini said.

Experts on addiction say Xanax can be hard to overcome, and the
difficulties may be magnified in people with prominent families, such
as Noelle Bush.

"One of the big things about suffering an addiction is the tremendous
guilt and shame you feel," Delgado said. "That's got to be magnified
when people are talking about it, and it's in the press, and your
uncle is the president. You can imagine the pressure that is on her."

Delgado said the high-profile case is more proof that drug problems
can affect anyone. About 14 million Americans used illicit drugs in
2000, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The
same number of Americans are estimated to be alcoholics.

"Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone, it does not
discriminate, it does not care what your family's name is ," Delgado
said. " Addiction is chemistry, addiction is a disease, and if you're
going to play with drugs, you risk addiction." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake