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Benzodiazepine

New Zealand

Fake Xanax Flualprazolam
How to identify the drug
  • Yellow, rectangular counterfeit ‘Xanax bar’ with R039 printed on one side
  • Three break lines delineating four sections
  • They have been sold under the slang name ‘bars’ or ‘school buses’ for between $25 and $50
  • Designed to imitate 2mg Pfizer produced, alprazolam containing Xanax brand tablets

Flualprazolam has been detected in yellow counterfeit Xanax pills being sold across New Zealand. Flualprazolam is a dangerous and potent novel benzodiazepine with a relatively short on-set of action and heavy sedative effects.

High Alert strongly urges people not to take rectangle shaped/2 mg ‘Xanax’ tablets in New Zealand. They are not approved nor legitimately available in this form and are almost certain to be counterfeit.

A sample of these counterfeit Xanax tablets was handed in to our partner KnowYourStuff, and later forensic analysis by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) indicated the presence of flualprazolam.

This is the first time flualprazolam has been detected in New Zealand. While the ESR don’t have a certified reference standard to confirm its presence, the analytical findings are consistent with those from international testing results.

Counterfeit benzodiazepines such as these illicitly produced ‘Xanax’ are a relatively new trend in New Zealand. Find out more about the background of fake benzos in NZ in our recent notification for the increase in the availability of fake ‘Xanax bar’ tablets across the country.

If you have heard of any reports of this drug, please let us know through the Report unusual effects page, the alert ID is N20/0011. All submissions are anonymous.

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How to recognise symptoms of the drug

The effects of flualprazolam are similar to other benzodiazepines, and can include:

  • Sedation and sleepiness
  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness

How to reduce harm from the drug

High Alert strongly urges people not to take rectangle shaped/2 mg ‘Xanax’ tablets in New Zealand. They are not approved nor legitimately available in this form and are almost certain to be counterfeit.

Flualprazolam hasn't been approved for medical use, and limited information about it is available. It is known to be 50x more potent by weight than alprazolam, with the common dose being less than 0.5mg. The dose-response curve of flualprazolam is particularly steep, meaning a dose over 2mg can easily be fatal.

Counterfeit fake Xanax pills are a growing trend in UK and the US. In 2019, the Centre for Forensic Science Research and Education identified flualprazolam as a contributing factor in over 40 deaths in the US.  It is now the second most commonly detected novel benzodiazepine in the US. Twelve deaths have been attributed to flualprazolam in the UK.

Counterfeit Xanax pills that have been illicitly manufactured often have unpredictable dosages, increasing the risk of unintended overdose. Many pills internationally have been shown to have varying doses even within the same batch.

Like other benzos, flualprazolam has potential for substance use disorder including craving, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Flualprazolam is not responsive to the opioid reversing agent naloxone.

Flualprazolam is also a strong central nervous system (CNS) depressant, like other benzos. When combined with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol and opioids, it can be fatal even at low doses.

Always call an ambulance if someone:

  • is unconscious;
  • stops breathing;
  • has a seizure;
  • is extremely agitated for longer than 15 minutes;
  • has chest pain or breathing difficulties for longer than 5 minutes.

The NZ Drug Foundation has more resources on how to reduce harm from benzos.

The National Poisons Centre is available 24/7 to help members of the public and healthcare professionals with clinical advice for exposures to this, or any other substance - please call 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON).

If you have heard of any reports of this drug, please let us know through the Report unusual effects page, the alert ID is N20/0011. All submissions are anonymous.

Are you concerned about your own drinking or drug taking? Reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential.

You can also chat to the Alcohol Drug Helpline team online through the website, or:

  • Call the Māori Line on 0800 787 798 for advice and referral to kaupapa Māori services.
  • Call the Pasifika Line on 0800 787 799 for advice and referral to services developed for Pacific people.
  • Call the Youth Line on 0800 787 984 for advice and referral to services for young people.