A category of recreational drugs that has not previously been seen much in Wisconsin has law enforcement and drug abuse specialists concerned over the possibility that its use may become more widespread.
The drug in question is an analog of drugs in the benzodiazepine family. These drugs, known generically as “benzos,” include the legal prescription drugs Valium, Xanax, Halcion and Ativan.
The drug that has hit the Wisconsin market is known as Etizolam, which is legal for research use only, and is not authorized for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration. It does not fall under the Federal Analog Act, so its legal status falls into the same gray area that occurs with synthetic marijuana. In and of itself, it is not illegal thus far to possess Etizolam. However, according to Ashland County Criminal Justice Council Coordinator Terry Schemenauer, use of the substance as a recreational drug is illegal under both state and federal law.
Nevertheless, like synthetic marijuana, it is a substance that is produced in bulk in China and is easily available through the Internet.
According to a communication from the Walworth County Drug Court shared with the Chequamegon Collation on Emerging Drugs, an interagency group that monitors the changing patterns of illegal drug use in the bay area, Etizolam has turned up in three drug users in that county.
According to Walworth County Treatment Court Coordinator Katie Behl, the drug, known on the street as “Ettize” or “Liquid Bliss,” is a liquid synthetic benzo that is being sold as “CD cleaner.”
However, users are able to inject the drug like heroin, or ingest it orally.
“It makes them sleep and relax. It is being sold to users as liquid Xanax,” she said.
One characteristic of the drug is that because it is different molecularly than commercial benzos, it does not show up on most screening drug tests.
“Sometimes the instant urinalysis sometimes catches it for a benzo, but then the confirmation will come back negative because the compound is not a schedule drug,” Behl said.
Behl said there are a few drug testing operations that can catch the new drug, but they were “very expensive.”
Although Ettize has not yet been uncovered in Ashland or Bayfield counties, the discovery of the substance elsewhere in the state has local drug control and treatment officials extremely worried.
“Is it concerning? Absolutely,” said Ashland County Drug Court Program Coordinator Anne Whiting. “This is a new one that we have just heard of.”
Like all drugs in the benzodiazepine class, chronic use of Ettize can very quickly lead to physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, tremor, insomnia, lack of appetite and panic attacks. In rare cases, this sudden withdrawal syndrome can even result in a seizures that can be life threatening. Some patients even consider suicide due to the extreme unpleasantness of the withdrawal.
Because of its concentrated liquid nature, Ettize has an inherent risk of overdose built into it. Overdoses can lead to excessive sedation of the respiratory system, sometimes so severely that it can lead to death.
Schemenauer warned that consumption of the drug was not the only danger. The other issues of drug abuse, such as contracting Hepatitis C by shared needle use, also apply to Ettize use.
“There are all kinds of things that are byproducts of drug use,” he said.
Whiting said that the community needed to be aware of new, emerging drug threats like Ettize.
“I just think of all the things that are out there already, that we need to make sure people are aware of,” she said.
At the same time, Whiting said she was concerned that giving the new drug publicity could lead some drug users to seek it out who may not have heard of it before.
“As with anything, I think we need to be aware of what is going on and educate ourselves the best we can and act appropriately,” she said. “If you do notice that a friend or a child is behaving erratically, make sure you consult a professional, because that is where it needs to go.”
According to Behl, the abuse of Etizolam is particularly troubling.
“Any drug is frightening, but when you get into synthetic forms, that makes it that much more terrifying,” she said. “You don’t know exactly what is in it, you don’t know what the dosage is. Especially when it is in a liquid form. That makes it that much more dangerous. I think it’s a very scary thing.”
Behl said she believed Ettize had a high potential to become a very popular drug of abuse.
“It is marketed as liquid Xanax, and everybody loves Xanax, so why wouldn’t they love it in a liquid form?” she said.
Behl said the message she wanted to send about Etizolam was that just because it was being marketed as Xanax, that didn’t make it safe.
“Any time something is in a liquid form or a synthetic form, it makes it 10, 15 100 times more dangerous,” she said. “There is so much that is unknown there. When people are on it, the impact it has on their brain and the rest of their body is something that they ware not prepared for. It’s not safe.”