Durban – A new drug craze sweeping through schools in KwaZulu-Natal has teachers, principals and parents at their wits’ end.
Pupils were already taking cough mixture containing codeine to get high. These were being distributed in schools mixed with juice and other cold drinks.
Now another cheap drug is being addicted to the toxic mix, with potentially fatal consequences.
Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia, is available from pharmacies for R1 a tablet, but is being sold on the streets for R7 each.
Teachers say the highly addictive drug has taken hold among school children in the province.
Sold only on prescription by doctors, Xanax is among the most prescribed – and most abused – benzodiazepine drugs (tranquillisers) in the US.
If taken over a prolonged period, it results in impaired concentration, slurred speech, increased salivation, memory problems, irritability, mood changes and lethargy.
Principals said they were initially confused when pupils who were behaving normally before their breaks returned to class tired, irritable and aggressive, while some would fall asleep in class.
One said she raised her concern with teachers and discovered that they were experiencing the same problem. They decided to monitor the situation.
During this time a girl in one teacher’s class began crying during a lesson. They later discovered she was taking Xanax.
Teachers said they had also noticed an increase in pupils being caught having sex on school premises and suspected that girls were being plied with the drug to make them more malleable.
According to the US National Library of Medicine website, when Xanax is used in large quantities, the effects become more dramatic.
Dr Lochan Naidoo, clinical director of Jullo Specialist Rehab Centre in Merebank, said the drug suppressed the brain and reduced anxiety. It also promoted sleep and, when taken with alcohol had a depressant effect.
“It is popular among the youth who do not want to take whoonga, but are looking for the same effects, which is to suppress the brain. They take it as a means of escaping reality.
“Xanax is now one of the most abused drugs accessible on the black market as a new trend by drug dealers to deal in prescription medicine,” he said.
A teacher from a school in KwaMashu said pupils’ parents were equally worried.
“We have parents coming to the school almost on a daily basis, complaining that their children are always sleeping, tired and aggressive,” she said.
A Chatsworth teacher said the problem was affecting both boys and girls.
“This drug is going to put children out of school and we are definitely going to experience a high failure rate,” she said.
A principal from a school in uMlazi said they recently discovered that the pupils were taking Xanax, after they saw pupils experience problems concentrating in class.
The principal said they were still dealing with the problem of the codeine and fizzy drinks concoction craze when the children began adding Xanax to the mixture.
“We researched the drug and alerted parents. The problem is that most parents cannot afford to send their children for rehabilitation. As teachers we have tried to offer counselling and reading material to the pupils as a form of awareness, but it looks like we are fighting a losing battle.”
Prabhir Patel, a pharmacist at Meranti Pharmacy in Mobeni Heights, said he had heard about the drug being accessible on the streets and becoming popular with school children.
He said he suspected that drug dealers were getting prescriptions illegally to buy the drug and were then selling it at inflated prices on the street.
“The drug is highly addictive, but sold cheaply at R1 each at pharmacies. The effects of taking it for no reason can be devastating. It causes drowsiness and a lack of concentration.
"I am worried that school children walking to school under its influence may put themselves at risk of being hit by cars, and are at risk of falling asleep while walking,” said Patel.