A heartbroken Aberdeen woman today called on the authorities to end the scourge of a deadly drug that claimed the life of her younger sister.
Alana said she feared many more families would be devastated by alprazolam – brand name Xanax – which was involved in the deaths of 29 people in the NHS Grampian area last year.
The powerful tranquillizer, commonly used to treat anxiety, isn’t available on the NHS in the UK but can be purchased on private prescription and is easy to buy over the internet.
Alana’s sister Vicki, of Torry, was just 32 when she died in January from a lethal cocktail of painkillers and alprazolam.
Alana, a mum-of-two, said: “People don’t know what they are doing with this drug, and in my sister’s case mixing it with painkillers proved to be a lethal combination.
“As a mother, I am terrified that these drugs are so readily available, and I really do fear for people as so many of them are dropping like flies. I know for a fact there has been more deaths connected to the drug since December.”
Last year alprazolam was present in toxicology reports of 29 people in the North-east – more than the combined total reported for Greater Glasgow, Lothian, Ayrshire and Forth Valley.
The ease in which people can get their hands on the drug has meant that figure has been rising. In 2016, 11 North-east deaths were linked to the drug, while in 2015 there were just five.
In November, the spike in alprazolam use prompted NHS Grampian to issue a “drug alert”.
The health authority said there had been an increase in both hospital admissions involving self-reported alprazolam use and drug deaths where alprazolam is present.
Dr Tara Shivaji, a consultant in public health at NHS Grampian, said: “We think that most people who are buying Xanax on the internet are buying from unregistered pharmacies without a prescription.
“Buying from unregistered pharmacies is potentially unsafe as the drug may be out of date, contaminated, diluted or fake.”
Alana said her sister, who attended St Machar Academy, was caught in a “downward spiral” of drugs following the sudden death of her mother, Lynn, in 2012.
She said: “Our mum was only 48 when she died and Vicki was with my mum when she collapsed with a brain aneurism.
“I ran all the way down to where she collapsed and the police had cordoned off the street.
“We were given a police escort to hospital.
“Vicki started taking tablets to numb her pain, combining alcohol with sedatives – which is how it all started.
“I tried so many times to help my sister but she was on a downward spiral.”
Alana said she learned of her sister’s death in a phone call from a friend.
She said: “As soon as I got home from work, a friend called to give me the news.
“She asked me if I had someone with me, and told me to sit down – just as a police car pulled up at my door.”
Alana described the “ripple effect” Vicki’s sudden death had on the whole family, including Vicki’s dad, Ally, and other sister, Lynn, as well as Vicki’s three children.
She said: “We are the walking wounded. No one knows the pain.
“Vicki was a fun-loving kid and a cracking mum.
“When it comes to a drugs death people automatically think ‘junkie’, but sadly the truly terrifying thing is it can happen to anyone. The resounding thing that has stuck with me since we lost Vicki is simply this – something has to be done.
“The powers that be need to intervene to help stamp out this scourge on society.
“My hope is simple. Get these drugs off the street by preventing them being supplied in the first place.”
But Alana believes Vicki was blind to the dangers of alprazolam and that others remain so.
She said: “How can you go from being a loving mum to how it was for her at the end? Vicki was a great mum, who took the wrong turn in life. Sadly for Vicki and so many others like her, there is a belief these tablets will help them, when the reality is it will have the complete opposite effect. Would Vicki have stopped taking drugs if she knew how it could end?
“The hope would have been something would have snapped inside her head.
“That’s why we need to educate people and raise public health awareness.
“Something needs to be done because the destruction and pain a pointless death leaves behind is simply heartbreaking.”
Services are available to provide support and advice to anyone who is affected by the use of alprazolam or Xanax.
Alcohol and Drugs Action – 01224 594700 – provides support throughout Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and are open seven days a week.
Turning Point Scotland – 01779 470490 – provides support in North Aberdeenshire, and Arrows – 01343 610500 – in Moray.
If you have been affected and want to share your story then e-mail – email@example.com