12 December 2019

NSW Health is warning of the potential dangers of counterfeit drugs following the discovery of a benzodiazepine that is stamped to look like a pharmaceutical product.

Etizolam, an unregistered benzodiazepine medication, is being illegally sold in Australia in the form of counterfeit tablets that are stamped to give the appearance of a pharmaceutical product, alprazolam (also known as “Xanax”).

Benzodiazepines are prescribed short-term for a range of health issues, including anxiety, sleep disorders and alcohol withdrawal.

Professor Nick Buckley, the Acting Clinical Director at the NSW Poisons Information Centre, said so far two physical tablets have tested positive and there has been a number of patients reporting adverse effects confirmed in NSW.

“We’ve seen four people recently where etizolam use has been associated with serious harm” Prof Buckley said.

“Etizolam has similar effects to other benzodiazepines but is not used medically in Australia. These tablets are not pharmaceutical grade and, as a result, can have widely variable doses and effects.”

Etizolam can cause unexpected side effects and may result in prolonged drowsiness.

“The effects will depend on the dose of etizolam in each tablet, how many tablets people consume and whether they regularly consume other benzodiazepines,” Prof Buckley said.

“If you have taken a tablet you purchased online or from the street and are experiencing side effects, call Triple Zero immediately or seek urgent medical attention.

Anyone who has concerns about these tablets or adverse effects from etizolam or alprazolam should contact the NSW Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.”

NSW Health has notified the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of these counterfeit medications.

For support and information on drug and alcohol problems, please contact:

The Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) – 1800 250 015 – a 24/7 service offering confidential and anonymous telephone counselling and information for individuals and concerned others

For information about potential adverse effects of drugs or medicines, please contact the NSW Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26.

The 2019-20 NSW Budget commits $231.6 million to delivering alcohol and other drug prevention, education, treatment and ongoing care programs state-wide.