Monday, November 2, 2009
The Black Market for Seroquel
Speed freaks, coke heads, and antipsychotics.
Last week, writing on the Daily Beast web site, reporter Jeff Deeney profiled a startling underground market for the antipsychotic medication Seroquel (quetiapine). Deeney described street transactions in North Philadelphia for Quells or Suzie-Qs, as the drug is sometimes called. Seroquel, a drug developed for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, has developed an additional reputation as a “comedown” drug for stimulant abusers.
Seroquel, a so-called atypical antipsychotic, works by altering levels of dopamine. While some addicts have claimed that the drug is perfect for a cocaine or speed comedown, Seroquel has also been studied for its anti-craving properties when used for cocaine abstinence.
Why would a speed freak or a coke addict want to take a drug that might decrease their desire for their stimulant of choice? For the same reason that ecstasy users often take a morning-after dose of Prozac in a misguided attempt to compensate for possible damage to serotonin receptor arrays. Or because the drug is mildly sedating for some users. However, there may be more to it. Perhaps Seroquel is an effective anti-craving medication for cocaine and methamphetamine addicts, who misuse it as a drug to ease them through enforced periods of detox or lack of availability.
One high-traffic drug discussion site has shut down a long-standing thread on Seroquel with the warning: “Do not use Seroquel for a cocaine comedown.”
The fact that prescription Seroquel is available as a street drug, at least in some parts of the country, demonstrates the likelihood that physicians and psychiatrists are increasingly using it for off-prescription purposes—like drug detox. Deeney strongly suggests that this is the case: “Drug dealers, mandated to treatment as a condition of their probation or parole, are given off-label prescriptions for Seroquel, then sent right back to the street, where the pills can be sold for cash to users and other dealers.”
Increasing its appeal is Seroquel’s reputation for combining well with cocaine in a mixture known as a Q-Ball, or Rosemary’s Dolly—a variation on the heroin/cocaine mix known as a Speedball, to which Seroquel can also be added. An anonymous med student on a medical blog noted that “certain people say they love Seroquel when doing a speed-ball. Makes sense, think about it. It heightens the high of the heroin, it eases the crash of the cocaine.”
Seroquel’s ability to modulate the effect of illegal drugs means that the medication can possibly find a market both as a detox drug for stimulant abusers, and as an ingredient in the very stimulants they abuse.
By itself, Seroquel is not considered addictive. Some addicts told Deeney that the drug simply put them to sleep more quickly after a long meth run. Indeed, Seroquel is considered to be more sedating than similar antipsychotics such as Olanzapine and Aripiprazole. The larger issue, as the Daily Beast post makes clear, is that “Seroquel can have serious side effects including diabetes, a permanent Parkinson’s-like palsy called tardive dyskinesia, and sudden cardiac death.”
All of this confusing and sometimes contradictory input is coming well ahead of the clinical data, although a study in 2001, presented at the 4th International Conference on Bipolar disorder, found that quetiapine caused a significant reduction in cocaine use among a small group of cocaine-dependent subjects who also suffered from bipolar disorder. A report last year in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology also showed positive results with cocaine users. Studies of quetiapine for the reduction of cocaine use are currently being undertaken by the Seattle Institute for Biomedical and Clinical Research.