Russian Anti-Anxiety Drug Linked To Mass Overdose At Private School

By Victoria Kim 02/28/18

Seven students were hospitalized after they ingested phenibut last week. 

A motion blurred photograph of a patient on stretcher or gurney being pushed at speed through a hospital corridor by doctors & nurses to an emergency room

Authorities have confirmed the cause of a mass drug overdose at a private school on Australia’s Gold Coast—the anti-anxiety drug known as phenibut.

Last Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 21), seven male students at Saint Stephen’s College aged 14-15 were hospitalized after they were observed “falling in and out of consciousness.” Some were in critical condition.

Headmaster Jamie Dorrington addressed the incident in a statement posted on Facebook later that day. “It is likely the students have ingested some kind of substance,” Dorrington said.

Authorities recovered “what appeared to be a powdered drug” from Saint Stephen’s, The Age reported. They pieced together that the students had ingested “different doses” of the drug in the morning—“everything from a taste to what I would call a significant amount,” said Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Aubort.

Phenibut is a pharmaceutical drug developed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, insomnia, alcohol use disorder and more. The drug is not approved for clinical use in the rest of the world, but instead is marketed as a nutritional supplement.

In Australia, however, phenibut was declared a Schedule 9 substance this month, meaning it is illegal to possess, manufacture, or distribute it. Other drugs in Schedule 9 include heroin, cannabis, and MDMA.

The effects of phenibut, a central nervous system depressant, range from sedation, muscle relaxation and pain relief, to nausea, respiratory depression and dizziness. Similar to GHB, phenibut can result in loss of motor coordination.

“There are increasing case reports globally about phenibut,” said Dr. David Caldicott, an emergency consultant and senior clinical lecturer in medicine at the Australian National University, according to The Guardian. “It’s definitely a thing that’s simmering underneath the radar but it’s not yet causing extensive medical harm as far as we know.”

Australian authorities are seeking any additional information from the public about the mass overdose, including evidence of alleged video footage of the drug use which was recorded on Snapchat.

“Incidents such as these just show how critical drugs are when used incorrectly,” said Detective Senior Sergeant Aubort. “So the reality is any illicit drug is dangerous. Kids need to understand that.”

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