| Drugs |

Phenazepam, the Soviet-Made Designer Drug, Hits North Texas

In case you missed the September 2012 issue of Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, here's a heads up: phenazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety drug sometimes sold as "Zannie" or "bonsai," is hitting the U.S. streets.

It's not exactly a new product -- it was developed in the 1970s by Soviet scientists to treat epilepsy, anxiety and sleep disorders -- but only recently has its recreational use spread, first to Western Europe and now to the United States.

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It's several times more potent than valium, another benzodiazepine, and has been cited as the cause of a growing number of hospitalizations and deaths. Now -- cue the Sweeps Week-style freakout -- it's arrived in North Texas.

NBC 5 has the first report, which carries the rather misleading headline that the drug is being "eyed" in nine Tarrant County deaths.

What does that mean? Hard to tell, since the two examples reporter Scott Gordon provides of phenazepam-linked deaths are an 18-year-old high school student killed when he ran across a busy highway and lawyer Michael Schmidt, the Dallas lawyer who died in shootout with police after taking a cocktail of drugs that, while it did indeed contain the Soviet-designed pharmaceutical, also included cocaine, hydrocodone and Xanax.

Hard to pin either of those directly on phenazepam, as the story ultimately acknowledges, in a coda saying the drug "has not been named as the direct cause of death in any cases." The story remains quite adamant, however, about it being from Russia, a country now guilty of fumbling the opening ceremonies, egregiously violating the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors and exporting child-killing drugs.

Phenazepam currently isn't classified as a controlled substance under federal law (Arkansas and Louisiana have banned it), though dealers have been prosecuted on the grounds that it's not approved by the FDA for human consumption.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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