HHS Media

Xanax wave hits Harrisonburg students

A+small+portion+of+the+79+Xanax+bars+that+Jones+used+that+resulted+in+him+passing+out.
A small portion of the 79 Xanax bars that Jones used that resulted in him passing out.

A small portion of the 79 Xanax bars that Jones used that resulted in him passing out.

Courtesy of Carl Jones

Courtesy of Carl Jones

A small portion of the 79 Xanax bars that Jones used that resulted in him passing out.

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One Xanax bar contains two milligrams of the antidepressant medication alprazolam. One Xanax bar can fit in any pocket and be smuggled practically anywhere. One Xanax bar in combination with the wrong circumstances can also permanently alter a life. The prescribed antidepressant has become one of the choice recreational drugs of the generation. According to CBS, over 46 million prescriptions for Xanax were written in 2016 with further increases seen in the past two years, but the antidepressant doesn’t always end up in hands of the prescribed user.

Senior Carl Jones had his first experience with Xanax when a friend slipped him the pill. He does not have a prescription and was using the drug recreationally.

“My very first experience, I just took one bar. The next day, I woke up and nothing bad had happened, but my memory from the previous day was just kind of foggy. I’ve never really thought about it too much, but I have no idea what happened that day… It reduces your worries. You’re not stressed anymore and you don’t think about the bad things. You just don’t care about anything… and everything goes away,” Jones said.

Xanax is prescribed to reduce issues with anxiety, physical tension and uneasiness. When taken recreationally, users can expect to feel relaxed and sluggish, but adverse effects are not uncommon.

Jones started using more often as his senior year progressed. His stresses were alleviated by the drug, so as life became more stressful, Jones increased his dosages.

“I ended up getting a whole lot of Xanax. I had 79 bars and I was planning on selling them, but I never got the chance because I ended up taking a lot of them. I slept until the next day when my parents found me and I wasn’t waking up. They took me to the hospital and then searched my room and took all of my stuff,” Jones said.

He had taken roughly 10 to 20 bars that night, but doesn’t have a clear recollection because of the nature of the drug.

The 79 bars Jones had gotten his hands on were ordered off of drug markets on the darknet. He could order 500 bars for $300 from sellers on the darknet and have them shipped to his front door.

Even with the accessibility to such high quantities, Jones refrained from dealing because of his own consumption.

“I never really ended up being able to sell Xanax because every time I got a lot, I ended up taking a lot and losing the rest because I got caught… [but if I did] I know people at HHS who I could easily sell a couple hundred bars to tomorrow. I know one guy who’s looking for 1,000 [bars] right now,” Jones said.

Jones believes these bars would have been resold back into HHS.

Before Jones could take the opportunity to sell, he stopped using after another near-death experience on the drug.

“Me and my friends were hanging out one night just driving around. I took a bar and then when I got home, I decided it would be a good idea to go [out with] another friend, so I got in my car and started driving [intoxicated]. We went and smoked some weed and then I took [another two bars]. We went and drove around some more and I have very vague memories of going to several 7/11’s… I have no idea how I didn’t crash because when I got home I was just stumbling around completely [messed] up,” Jones said.

One of the friends that Jones had picked up that night who had consumed Xanax had an abrupt end to his fun. He went into a coma and was sent to the emergency room. He also had alcohol and ecstacy in his system. The friend woke up two days later with permanent brain damage from the comatosis. This friend is an HHS graduate.

Jones doesn’t believe that Xanax has had any permanent long-term effects on him, but finds that it still posed the most extreme dangers to him.

“I haven’t noticed any long-term effects because I haven’t abused it enough. It’s very hard to overdose on Xanax, but it’s still very dangerous,” Jones said. “For me personally, it’s caused me to make the stupidest decisions of my life. I could have crashed… it’s terrifying. I’ve done drugs from cocaine to LSD to Ecstacy… but Xanax has had the biggest effects on me,” Jones said.

Jones tried to not use the drug during school hours, but he isn’t representative of the entire recreational consumer base at HHS.

Principal Cynthia Prieto has seen cases of students using the drug in their classes.

“It just seems to be ‘the thing’ right now. I know of four incidences where the student admitted to taking [Xanax] in school and by the end of the day was under the influence. In all of those cases, the parents got involved and in several of those cases the recommendation was to take them to the emergency room,” Prieto said. “It just seems to be the choice [drug] right now, and for us that’s concerning because we’re afraid someone’s going to do some real damage to themselves.”

Xanax, if not prescribed, can cause adverse alterations in personality and mood and cause actions that don’t match the situation. These adverse effects can range from apparent drunkenness to irritability, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“A student got irritated and while they’d usually just get angry, they [started] cursing and running out of classrooms and punching walls. We had a student hurt his hand from punching a wall so hard,” Prieto said.

The trend of Xanax is relatively new to the school and all of the incidences this year happened within a matter of just a few weeks. Prieto and the School Board have tried to counter the wave of usage in two ways: preventative and disciplinary.

“Proactively, we are trying to raise awareness. I’ve made announcements in school, Dr. Kizner and I are talking to the School Board about raising the awareness in the community that this is a concern and that it does have potential ramifications. On the reactive side, obviously there’s discipline involved. If we find out the person who’s dealing, then that person gets dealt with very seriously. If you are under the influence, there’s the potential of getting suspended and even worse,” Prieto said.

Discipline is where resource officer Ronnie Bowers steps in.

“Xanax, unless it is prescribed to you, is illegal to have. It is a misdemeanor charge… so they’ll get a [possession] charge,” Bowers said.

Since there is no way to immediately identify a student under the influence of Xanax, Bowers doesn’t usually get involved until later in the process.

“Normally, the procedure starts with one of the administrators. An administrator goes and gets a student and starts talking to them, trying to figure out what’s wrong. A lot of times they’ll take them to the nurse and try to figure out why their behavior has changed. If it’s linked to Xanax, that’s when I’ll get involved,” Bowers said.

Administrators bring these students to the school nurse, Angela Knupp, who triages the student looking for irregularities in breathing, heartbeat and other prime symptoms to possible health issues.

“In the teenage population in general, there’s a problem with Xanax. It’s clearly not just here. It’s happening everywhere, but especially in the Valley. They’ve had issues at Broadway, they’ve had issues at Spotswood, they’ve had issues at Turner Ashby. All the schools are having the same problem,” Knupp said.

Drug dogs and/or police officers came into both Turner Ashby and Broadway high schools following incidences of Xanax usage in school. To Knupp, these incidences don’t make sense.

“It doesn’t make you smarter and it doesn’t make you faster, it just makes you dumb. It dulls your awareness and senses. I guess if you were having a really bad day you could say, ‘I took it because it made it all go away,’ except for it makes lots of things go away; it makes your cognitive function and even your ability to put food in your mouth go away,” Knupp said.

This Xanax epidemic has not just swept Rockingham County and Harrisonburg schools, but masses of the teenage population across the U.S. Knupp attributes this widespread usage simply to age.

“Teenagers in general don’t have good frontal lobe development because that’s normal. You typically don’t have a fully developed frontal lobe until college, so some kids make choices that aren’t great, but they don’t have the ability to see past the here and the now,” Knupp said.

Consumers of the drug are often ignorant of the source of the drug which can result in the possibility of lacing. Xanax can be combined with Fentanyl, a pain reliever considered more dangerous and addictive than heroin, and result in severe bodily damage or death.

“You don’t really know if you’re taking Xanax or not. It wasn’t put into a bottle by a pharmacist just for you, it was given to you by somebody that is looking to make money. Would you pick up a pill off the floor in the hallway and take it? The answer is, ‘Gross, no,’ so why would you take a pill that someone hands you at a party, in a drink or in a bathroom? It makes no sense,” Knupp said.

Although laced drugs were never a problem or concern for Jones, he quit on his own free will. His experiences on the drug became too much of a burden to bare.

“I never plan to do Xanax again,” Jones said. “Out of all the drugs I’ve done, it has been the most damaging to my life in general. It terrifies me thinking back to that night I drove on that much Xanax. It’s definitely strained the relationship with my family. I feel awful for my sibling seeing me go through that. It’s one of the worst feelings ever.”

The individual in this story, Carl Jones, requested to remain anonymous. Pseudonyms have been used where appropriate.

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