A new warning has been issued by Scots health experts after it emerged that an unlicensed Russian drug, known as Bonsai Supersleep, left five young users in hospital.
NHS experts have discovered that the drug taken by the teenagers, who needed treatment at Borders General Hospital after taking it earlier this month, was the anxiety drug phenazepam.
The concerns have now been circulated in a warning message to health boards and NHS professionals.
In August, The Herald revealed how Scottish Government experts circulated warnings about the drug that had become freely available on the internet.
The initial warning was issued after at least three users were known to have overdosed in England and Wales and a user in Aberdeen said he had ended up in hospital after washing it down with four cans of lager.
Now it has emerged that a fresh NHS intelligence brief has been circulated as one of the Borders youngsters in hospital wrote to friends warning that he had taken Bonsai and he feared it could have killed him.
Aaron Myatt, 19, from Selkirk, wrote: “Serious warning. If you get offered a legal drug called Bonsai don’t take it if you value your life in the slightest.
“I spent a week in hospital over it and need to rest for two to three weeks. I could have died. Spread the word.”
Phenazepam, which is not on any banned list but is not licensed, had previously been passed off as diazepam, a medication used for treating anxiety and insomnia, commonly known as Valium.
Now there is concern that phenazepam sellers are trying to market it as the new party drug. It is feared the new street name of Bonsai will entice youngsters who believe it may be linked to mephedrone, which is often labelled plant food and is also known as meow meow.
EU justice ministers earlier this month agreed to ban mephedrone, whose physical effects compare to those of ecstasy or cocaine. It was banned in Britain last March after it was linked with several deaths.
Medical experts are concerned that the imported phenazepam is three times as strong as other similar drugs, and that its effects can last up to three times as long.
The Borders incident has prompted internal discussions about bringing in a system for NHS staff to be educated about the products in circulation.
One Scottish NHS drug expert said: “The warnings will hopefully achieve awareness among health professionals, the general population, and of course parents about what is happening with phenazepam, about the potential for misuse and prevent any confusion that there may be with mephedrone.”
Experts say that when used in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs, it will greatly increase the effects of reduced consciousness and respiratory depression. Side-effects of phenazepam include dizziness, drowsiness, loss of co-ordination and amnesia.
When properly prescribed, the drug has been used in the treatment of anxiety. It has also been used in the treatment of muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and drug dependence, as well as being a pre-operation sedative.
The circular from the Scottish Government’s Primary and Community Care Directorate to healthcare professionals earlier this year warns of the “illicit use and subsequent overdose” associated with the drug.
It says: “Phenazepam is not commonly used in the UK and it may be being passed off as diazepam. The risks remain the same as for all benzodiazepines [the class of drug to which it belongs], but phenazepam is reported to last up to 60 hours.
“The onset of sedative effects [is] slower though more potent than the more commonly used UK benzodiazepines.
“This combination presents increased likelihood of overdose, particularly if the user does not know what they are using.
“Intelligence received suggests that more of these drugs may come into circulation.”
EXCLUSIVE: MARTIN WILLIAMS
23 Dec 2010