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Are Soundcloud-rappers and emo-hip-hop the reason we are witnessing a Xanax crisis?

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KU students explain why millennials are the ‘Xanax generation’.

The lyrics from Lil Peep’s song ‘Praying to the Sky’ have become iconic: “I found some Xanax in my bed, I took that shit, went back to sleep, they gon’ miss me when I’m dead, I lay my head and rest in peace.”

The verse captures the self-appointed destiny of the rapper who died from a suspected drug overdose in November last year when he was 21 years old.

Peep died after he took a bar of Xanax mixed with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. His image as a ‘sad rapper’, his openness about depression and the constant references to drugs made Lil Peep the symbol of a generation of young people struggling with mental health, using social media to express their personal crises.

While rapping about drugs is not necessarily a new phenomenon, the emergence of references to antidepressants such as Xanax has become increasingly predominant with the new generation of web-based hip-hoppers.

Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute found that the UK makes up 22 per cent of the global Xanax sales. Only the US, which accounted for half of the total sales, sold more Xanax than the UK. The researchers used data from one of the largest dark web marketplaces which was published as concerns about more young people using Xanax than ever before were growing.

Lil Peep posted this picture to Instagram only hours before his death. Photo: Instagram
Lil Peep posted this picture to Instagram only hours before his death Photo: @lilpeep

A KU second-year music technology student said: “Because Xanax is an anti-anxiety drug, you lose that anxious, insecure feeling. When you’re on it, you can go out and you don’t have a care in the world.”

While the idea of effectively de-stressing and taking a break is tempting to any student, Xanax has a clear downside: memory loss.

The 20-year-old said he started experimenting with Xanax because it was new and exciting. He agreed it has a glamour added to it because of the consistent hip-hop references, but said the memory loss was a problem.

“One morning my flatmate and I woke up after taking two and a half bars of Xanax the night before. We walked into our living room and all of our music equipment – drums, guitars, everything – was just everywhere. They were just on chairs, tables and the floor and I don’t really understand how we got to that point. I have no memory of that night and neither does my flatmate,” he said.

The young musician said one of his friends treated himself to the supposed fun of a couple of Xanax bars on his birthday. When he woke up the next morning, he had to rely on his friends to show him pictures he had sent them on Snapchat on the night. His own memory of the night was pitch black.

Xanax does, however, have a very tempting feature: it’s really cheap. On average, you can get three bars of Xanax for £10. If you buy it from the dark web it can even cost you as little as £1 per bar.

“I have heard so many people, mainly students, saying they can’t afford to drink because drinks are so expensive, especially in London. But then they can have a pill of Xanax for £10 and they’re sorted for the night,” he said.

Nick Hickmott works for Addaction, an organisation helping people with mental health and drug and alcohol abuse. He said the music student’s experience of memory loss is normal for people who have taken Xanax.

“What’s perhaps more worrying is the danger of people being left in situations which might render them vulnerable. Blackouts and memory loss are common with regards to Xanax use and these are highly exacerbated when the drug is used with alcohol or other opioids,” Hickmott explained.

He agreed the growing trend of “emo rappers”, such as the previously mentioned Lil Peep, has contributed to making Xanax so popular among the younger generations.

“Substances move in trends and are used according to geography, friendship groups and unforeseen influences. In my role as young people drug worker, I am seeing predominantly use in 15 to 21-year-olds, but historically Benzos have been used by older age groups in the main,” he said.

Hickmott confirmed it has become increasingly easy for young people to get hold of the antidepressants online and that it is now commonly stocked by dealers because “where there is demand there will always be supply”.

Some of the most prominent dangers of buying it on the black market is the drug being laced with other, more dangerous substances. Tolerance to Xanax also grows quickly, increasing the risk of becoming addicted.

“The vast majority of Xanax on the streets is counterfeit, which can lead to issues around purity and in return, dosage,” Hickmott said.

However, he added that the real problem is young people’s lack of knowledge about the drug.

“Young people just need to know the facts. We can’t stop kids from experimenting with substances, but we can do a better job of educating them to make more informed choices. It’s so important to increase communication with our teens so we can overcome stigma and offer non-judgmental advice regarding drugs and alcohol.”

Another student, 20, in her third year of sociology, said: “I guess people often don’t know how to deal with mental health problems and turn to drugs that cause their mental health to deteriorate further rather than helping them.”

The sociology student said she used Xanax to de-stress and feel relaxed, often together with alcohol. While widely prescribed in the US, only private clinics prescribe Xanax in the UK.
A student in her second year who was prescribed Xanax for anxiety and panic attacks said she was disappointed people are taking it for fun.

“It’s not fun or interesting and people who tell you otherwise shouldn’t be taking it,” she said.

If you are having problems, talk to the NHS Frank helpline on 0300 123 6600.

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