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Updated: August 20, 2021
Benzo Dope: A Dangerous and Addictive New Street Drug
A new drug combination called “benzo dope” has hit the streets of North America. The drug, which refers to benzodiazepine-adulterated opioids, has been increasingly linked to overdose deaths in British Columbia, Canada. It has also popped up in other parts of North America.
With benzo dope, drug dealers add benzodiazepines to a drug like fentanyl. Both drugs, especially to inexperienced users, can suppress respiration and cause overdose deaths. Naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug, doesn’t help reverse benzodiazepine overdoses. This is why overdoses are more likely to be fatal.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are used as sedatives. Drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium are sometimes legally prescribed for people with anxiety disorders or muscle problems. However, they have a high potential for abuse, especially when someone drinks after taking them or uses them alongside other substances.
Benzodiazepines can cause physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms. When used with drugs such as heroin or Oxycontin, users are more likely to overdose. It is also quite dangerous to use benzos with alcohol.
When used together, benzos and fentanyl can cause a prolonged loss of consciousness, trouble breathing, and blackouts for the user, similar to the amnesiac blackouts of a person who has overdosed on alcohol.
Benzo Dope Takes Its Toll in British Columbia
British Columbia has been hit hard by the new drug combination. Authorities first learned of its existence when there were 30 drug overdoses over the space of a week in 2019.
During the pandemic, Benzodiazepines from April 2020 and April 2021, the combination of benzos and opioids, caused 60% of overdose deaths. At the same time, more and more opioids were discovered with benzo adulterants. It became so common that by April 2021, 25% of the samples were testing positive. Most users had no idea that they were ingesting more than fentanyl, which is a powerful drug that has caused many overdoses on its own.
What We Know About Benzo Dope
On the street, benzo dope has also been called “purple heroin.” However, it can vary in color. It’s usually dark purple or blue and orange. Benzo dope is usually commonly smoked or inhaled, but users sometimes inject it as well.
The drug itself has caused overdoses in Michigan and a few other American cities, but it is most well-known in British Columbia, where it was first discovered.
In the samples from British Columbia, the most common benzo drug identified in benzo dope was etizolam. Etizolam is used in medicine in Japan, Italy, and India, but it has never been legal in the United States. It’s also a drug of concern – in Ireland, there is an onslaught of benzo addiction attributed to the drug. Etizolam is a highly addictive drug, nearly ten times as powerful as Valium, according to the DEA.
The drug doesn’t seem to be going away, either. Many overdoses caused by benzo dope last January - half of the 165 suspected drug overdose deaths in British Columbia - also involved benzos. The prior year that number was only 15%.
Benzo dope is just starting to make its way onto the streets of America, but hopefully, public health authorities will have the tools in place to recognize when it gets here and help mitigate the danger.
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