Grieving Edinburgh mum warns of counterfeit pill dangers after son dies from Xanax overdose

Anne McDermott
Anne McDermott
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AN Edinburgh mum has told of her heartbreak after losing her son to an overdose of an anti-anxiety drug that is illegal in the UK.

Scott McDermott was 35 when he died at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after becoming addicted to Xanax, a Class C tranquilliser commonly prescribed in the United States for anxiety and panic disorders.

Scott McDermott from Edinburgh

Scott McDermott from Edinburgh

But Xanax, also known as Alprazolam, is illegal in the UK and can only be obtained by private prescription or illegally over the internet or through a drug dealer.

Anne McDermott told a Scottish morning radio show that her son, who had been a heroin user for 16 years prior to his death, died after becoming addicted to what she believed were counterfeit pills.

She said: “Unfortunately Scott died partly because of Xanax – he became addicted to them very quickly.

“He started taking them in October 2017 and unfortunately died in January 2018.

Seized packets of the tranquilizer Xanax on display at the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) Headquarters in Dublin after a Europe-wide Interpol-coordinated project called Pangea X.

Seized packets of the tranquilizer Xanax on display at the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) Headquarters in Dublin after a Europe-wide Interpol-coordinated project called Pangea X.

“They were very addictive tablets – he went two times a day to get them and they’re not proper Xanax, they’re manufactured wherever and they’re sent here via the internet or a drug courier. He bought them from someone in Edinburgh.”

Across the UK, around 204 deaths have been attributed to the misuse of Xanax since 2015 with 126 of those fatalities concentrated in Scotland.

More than £1 million worth of counterfeit Xanax was seized at UK ports and airports in 2016.

Scotland recorded the highest number of deaths with 99 fatalities in 2017, up from 24 the previous year and just two in 2015.

Police in Northern Ireland said counterfeit Xanax was the third most-seized drug there, accounting for 25 per cent of the 113 deaths involving drugs recorded in 2018.

The Home Office’s border control operation Border Force told a news site that it was at the “forefront of the fight to keep illegal drugs out of the country”.

A spokesperson said: “We are taking a smarter approach to restricting the supply of drugs and are adapting our approach to reflect changes in criminal activity.”

Anne McDermott said: “Scott had been an addict for about 16 years on drugs.

“[He] had been taking heroin, he was on a methadone prescription for that but unfortunately the Xanax has a zombie-like effect on people, it’s like they’re here and not here, and I had seen Scott a few times after he had taken those tablets.

“He had fell [sic] from the settee, there was stuff coming out his mouth, it was a horrible, horrible situation to see and I tried to speak to him about it but they had a very powerful hold over Scott.

“And with Scott being a drug addict a long time, someone who hasn’t been a drug 
addict the length of time as Scott, someone who’s maybe experimenting or something like that – they will kill you there’s no two doubts about that.”

In 2018 NHS Grampian issued a warning, following an earlier alert by Police Scotland, on the dangers of Xanax after recording 29 deaths to it in 2017 compared to 11 the year before.

It found an increase in both hospital admissions involving self-reported Alprazolam use and drug deaths where it was present.

The alert was intended to raise awareness, increase knowledge and assist in assessing the trends in drug use across Grampian at the time. Although the alert focused on Xanax, there were a number of other substances that were considered to cause harm.

They warned that some of the adverse reactions people experienced after taking Xanax included amnesia, increased risk of falls, slurred speech, confusion, mood swings and muscle spasms. Other risks were sedation, with some reports of that lasting up to four days which was more common when combining multiple depressant drugs, respiratory depression, coma and death.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman and Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs told the Evening News: “The increase in deaths from Xanax across the UK is incredibly worrying, but what is especially concerning is how many people in Scotland are dying from overdoses of the 

“It is vital that the illegal distribution of Xanax is cracked down on, and that this prescription drug is used properly, so that there are not more deaths like this in the future.”

Warnings over the misuse of fake Xanax come after reports that street drugs being sold as Valium have been linked to an “unprecedented” number of fatal overdoses in Glasgow.

Health chiefs fear “street valium”, also known as “blues”, are connected to a sharp rise in the number of drug deaths in the city.

There was a 43 per cent rise in the number of people who died of drugs overdoses in January to October last year, compared with the same period in 2017.

An increasing number of people were also treated for non-fatal overdoses at hospitals and by crisis services across the city, they said. Reported use of Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, have also increased. Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde addiction services, said: “When people buy street blues, they do not know what is in the pills.

“The quality and dosage can be very variable. People might think they are taking Diazepam, but it may be other much more potent benzodiazepines such as Etizolam.

“It is particularly dangerous when used in combination with other drugs like heroin and even prescribed methadone.”

n A woman has been charged after fake valium worth £156,000 was seized in a raid on a property in Bannockburn on Monday.

Police Scotland also recovered £20,000 worth of heroin, and £20,000 worth of amphetamine, cannabis, and MDMA from the address in Douglas Street.