MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The University of Minnesota has confirmed its wrestling team is under investigation for dealing and using Xanax. Four Gophers wrestlers were allegedly dealing the drug. Another 10 wrestlers are suspected of using it.
The Fox 9 Investigators have also learned the four wrestlers were allegedly getting the anti-anxiety drug from a former wrestler, who is no longer on the team. They allegedly called the pills 'Zanny' and sold it to fellow wrestlers for to other students $5-$8.
Wrestling coach J. Robinson was allegedly aware of the drug use on his team and told his players they'd be "granted amnesty," if they wrote personal essays.
He sent them a text message that read: "Remember that paper is due on my desk by tomorrow evening. #1 What emotions you're feeling by getting caught, by letting yourself, your teammates, your parents down, how did it feel and do you want to feel that way again?
U of M Board of Regents comments on investigation
Regents Board Chair Dean Johnson is sympathetic, even though Robinson allegedly wouldn't provide U of M police with the names of the wrestlers involved or their essays unless they were granted immunity.
"I can't lay blame at coach Robinson for what he attempted to do," Johnson said. "I think he thought he was doing the best he can do."
Fox 9 asked Johnson even if the coach had the best intentions, was he playing by his own rule book by having the athletes write personal essays?
"Well, as any coach or parent's probably first instinct is to fix the violation internally before it goes on to wider arena or go public," Johnson said.
Selling Xanax illegally, without a prescription, is a 5th degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, although first timers usually get probation.
Xanax is not a banned substance under NCAA rules because it is not a performance enhancer and is one of the most widely prescribed prescription drugs. Robinson could be in the clear with the NCAA. But with new Athletic Director Mark Coyle coming to town, Johnson predicted a new set of expectations.
"The university is much more than athletics," Johnson said. "[That] can be a good thing but it could also put a dent in your program and we don't want that."
Xanax is part of a class of drugs known as Benzodiazepines, more than one-and-half million prescriptions are written every year in Minnesota for this class of drugs.
Xanax, or Alprazolam, is often prescribed for anxiety. Dr. Joseph Lee with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation said in the wrong hands Xanax can be an insidious, even a deadly, little pill.
"It relives stress, makes them happier about their day," Lee said. “In the past decade we're noticing more people mixing it with alcohol, pain medications, uppers and stimulants."
Lee said he has also seen a disturbing trend with young people coming into treatment.
"They have been able to buy Benzodiazepines off the street for sometimes $2 a pill," He said.
"Benzos" like Xanax, when combined with opioid pain killers, like Percocet, or street drugs like heroin have a synergistic or multiplier effect. People get higher when using the two classes of drugs together, but they also die. This combination is present in one-third of all opioid overdoses.