TikTok’s Clonazepam Challenge threatens young lives in Latin America

TikTok's 'Clonazepam Challenge' endangers minors. Hospitalizations, drug dependence. Clonazepam readily available. Address self-medication in Peru.
  1. The ‘Clonazepam Challenge’ on TikTok is a dangerous trend among minors, resulting in hospitalization and drug dependence.
  2. The sale of clonazepam and similar drugs is regulated but readily available on the black market in Lima.
  3. Self-medication is widespread in Peru, with 62% of the population obtaining medication without a prescription, putting their health at risk.

A new viral challenge on TikTok, known as the ‘clonazepam challenge’ or ‘whoever falls asleep last, wins,’ is arousing a worrying interest in minors between 12 and 17 years of age in different countries. Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico have already reported cases of schoolchildren who joined this dangerous “game” and ended up intoxicated. Although this type of event has not yet been officially reported in Peru, there is concern among health authorities that it may be replicated.

In this popular social network, several videos of teenagers and young girls openly tell their experience taking this anxiolytic, which should be available only with a doctor’s prescription because of its powerful tranquilizing effects. Ingesting it goes beyond believing that it is just a challenge because, in high doses, it can lead to coma or even death.

According to the American government website MedlinePlus, Clonazepam is a medication that carries the risk of serious breathing problems, sedation, or coma when taken with certain opiate medications such as codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and others. Patients taking clonazepam should inform their doctor of any medications and be aware of the potential side effects. Clonazepam can be habit-forming, and drinking alcohol or using street drugs during treatment increases the risk of serious side effects. Physical dependence can occur with extended use, and sudden cessation can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Patients should not change their clonazepam dose without consulting their doctor and be aware of potential withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sleep problems, and changes in mental health.

Mexican authorities found high school students trying to introduce this drug into their classrooms. The purpose, according to them, was to do the challenge together to see who of all the minors present could withstand the tranquilizing effects the most. Hence, ‘whoever falls asleep last wins.’ At least eight students in that country have already been intoxicated and in the hospital.

The clonazepam challenge has several countries in suspense in which poisonings of minors have already been reported.
The clonazepam challenge has several countries in suspense in which poisonings of minors have already been reported.

In Ecuador and Chile, similar situations were reported: more intoxicated schoolchildren and parents desperate for their children’s health. Here, in Peru, the concern is that social networks do not understand borders, and it is not ruled out that this viral challenge may arrive.

Infobae Peru contacted the public health expert, Marco Almerí, who explained that clonazepam, alprazolam, or diazepam are drugs that “are mostly used to manage anxiety” and that “if a person takes it for more than three months in a row, it generates a dependency.”

That is, the person can no longer live without using this medication. Then, when the child or adult self-medicates, he or she can fall into drug dependence. And this situation leads them into a spiral from which they cannot get out and in which they destroy their lives“, he pointed out.

When asked if these anxiolytics can be lethal, the physician assured the reporters that they can, especially if mixed with alcoholic beverages, energizers, or any other drug. In this regard, he recalled that the so-called ‘peperas‘ precisely mix clonazepam with any drink to put their victims to sleep, who -in many cases- even lose their lives.

Public health expert Marco Almerí warned of the lethal consequences of self-medication.
Public health expert Marco Almerí warned of the lethal consequences of self-medication.

He specified that clonazepam in low doses generates drowsiness. Still, when it is taken in excess, the person “can enter into a stupor, that is, a disconnection from the environment, but still alive and sleeps much more than he normally does.”

But if we are talking about more than four tablets he can even go into coma, when mixed with alcohol or energizers. So from coma to death is already a small step.

Marco Almerí

The risk of self-medicating

This TikTok challenge has also raised the worrying figure of people who self-medicate in our country. The expert revealed that “currently in Peru, out of every 100 people, 62 go looking for their medication.”

“What percentage of Peruvians self-medicate? 56% before the pandemic, 62% after it. During the pandemic, there was a peak of 80% in self-medication. People bought their paracetamol…. Well, we are at 62% of self-medication,” he explained.

Experts say that taking clonazepam in high doses can leave the person who ingests it in a coma.
Experts say that taking clonazepam in high doses can leave the person who ingests it in a coma.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-medication as using medicinal products without a prescription. The expert said this “is a risky practice in Peru that dates back many years.”

“What are the consequences of self-medication? In practice, what we see when self-medicated patients arrive is that they mask their underlying disease. For example, they have appendicitis, which is reflected in abdominal pain. They take painkillers, and suddenly that calms the symptoms, but then they arrive late at the hospital because it is no longer appendicitis but peritonitis,” he commented.

Black market

Although the sale of clonazepam, alprazolam, and diazepam is regulated in Peru, there is a black market in several places in Lima where these drugs can be purchased without a prescription.

According to what Dr. Almerí explained, the following happens in our country: the large laboratories are the ones that import enormous quantities of these drugs, and with this they supply the needs of the large chains. However, the pharmacies or drugstores in the cones of the capital are not considered in this purchasing process.

Despite the efforts of the authorities, the black market for medicines continues to operate.
Despite the authorities’ efforts, the black market for medicines continues to operate.

For example, a box of 100 tablets of clonazepam 0.5 milligrams or alprazolam, also 0.5 milligrams, costs eight soles. So, the small pharmacies, which have only one owner and are in the outskirts of Lima, which are not part of a chain, are not attractive for these big laboratories to take a box of 100 tablets for eight soles, which is what they could buy per month,” he said.

The Peruvian College of Pharmacists has denounced that these large laboratories bring products with which they supply the large pharmacy chains, and the rest goes to a black market that we all know is in Downtown Lima, on Capon and Mesa Redonda streets. And there, these small pharmacies that are not part of the distribution chain of the large laboratories is where they get their supplies,” he added.

Without prescription

He asserted that these small pharmacies get these drugs, and when selling them, they do not ask for a prescription, but in return, they distribute it at a higher price so that their profit is justified.

In some pharmacies and pharmacies on the outskirts of Lima these drugs are sold without a prescription.
In some pharmacies and pharmacies on the outskirts of Lima, these drugs are sold without a prescription.

A 0.5-milligram tablet of clonazepam in a pharmacy in Carabayllo or Puente Piedra is 50 cents. Then, when they sell 10 tablets, it is already five soles; if they sell 100 tablets, it is already 50 soles. And they bought it at eight or ten soles. Of course, the profit is much higher,” he said.

This black market could also be the one that finally, if this challenge of the ‘clones’ were to arrive in Peru, would supply these children who would look for where to get these drugs without a prescription, even at an extra cost, and that could finally endanger or put the health of these youngsters at risk,” he remarked.