Tox Tuesday: designer benzodiazepines

Online Prescription DrugsCommonly prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and seizure-prevention, benzodiazepines have assisted millions for more than 60 years. Marketed under well-known names including Xanax, Ativan and Valium, benzodiazepines or “benzos,” are referred to as “downers” as they work by depressing the central nervous system leading to feelings of relaxation, calmness, or sedation.

Because of these effects, benzodiazepines can be highly addictive and according to a published study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), just as addicting as illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin. Due to their addictive nature, they are also highly abused. This occurs not only in those with a prescription for the drugs, but also in those who are able to purchase “designer benzodiazepines,” illegally via the internet. This not only creates more problems of addiction and dependence, but also leads to other serious issues of drug-related crime, including those who sell or purchase these drugs to use them as “date-rape” drugs.

According to a recent article, designer benzodiazepines were first seen when two drugs known as phenazepam and etizolam were first created and sold as “legal highs” to those without a prescription for benzodiazepines. However, after changes in narcotics laws, these drugs became controlled by many countries. This in turn led to illicit laboratories using information published in literature on the synthetic routes to various structural classes of benzodiazepines and their relative potency, to create new versions of the drugs, now known as designer benzodiazepines.

In fact, just in the past few years, there are more than 30 common designer benzodiazepines documented under names including phenazepam, etizolam, pyrazolam, flubromazepam, diclazepam and nitoxipam, all with varying degrees of effects on the human body as well as varying duration times. Because of this and the continually growing number of designer benzodiazepines currently available (and predicted to become available in the near future), toxicologists and forensic laboratories are running to complications when it comes to accurately identifying these drugs in human urine, blood and oral fluid samples.

For example, according to one document produced by the Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Toxicology in Germany, two of the first designer benzodiazepines to appear on the market are known as flubromazepam and pyrazolam. Based on studies conducted, scientists are now aware that these drugs show no detectable metabolism, meaning they have the ability to give an inaccurate result in a drug test. Nevertheless, scientists we able to discover the long window of detection of the drug’s parent compound can be detected when using the correct form of drug test and “seems sufficient to solve forensic cases.

As described in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry, while flubromazepam also has a low delectability of its main metabolites, it also has a prolonged half-life, meaning there is the possibility that toxicologists can prove consumption of this drug for up to 28 days post-ingestion based on the amount consumed. While this prolonged elimination half-life could lead to an accumulation of toxic concentration levels after repeated intake, which could be particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol or other central depressant drugs such as heroin or methadone, it can also be advantageous for analytic investigations in cases of drug facilitated crimes, according to the article.

Another designer benzodiazepine similar to flubromazepam is diclazepam, whose detection in serum and urine samples is also limited. According to another study also published in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry, this once again shows that toxicologists performing tests for these drugs must carefully assess what type of test is sufficient and what type of analysis must be done for the most accurate results concerning the detection of designer benzodiazepines.

Neogen’s benzodiazepine ELISA test kit has confirmed cross-reactivity with all of the previously mentioned designer benzodiazepines. For more information on our benzodiazepine test kits, click here and visit our website for additional information.


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