Pauline sells Xanax with her boyfriend from their home in Ghent, Belgium – mainly to students. The powerful tranquilliser – chemical name, alprazolam – has grown popular across Europe because of its association with hip-hop. I spoke to Pauline about how that rising popularity has affected her business.
VICE: Hey, you around?
How did you get into selling Xanax?
One of our friends works in a pharmaceutical warehouse. He steals Xanax from the stock and sells it in bulk. One day he was talking to us about it and said we could call on him if we ever needed. A year ago, I really needed money and I decided to accept his offer. He became our supplier.
Do you or your boyfriend use it?
My boyfriend's become addicted and takes it every day. Without it he can't function or eat. I started taking it last year to be able to sleep after sniffing coke all evening. Then I started taking it after our arguments, so that I could calm down and sleep.
Why do your customers like it?
It depends. Some people take it just to relax, others to party. I've only taken it once at a party, but that wasn't really a good experience. I'd drunk and smoked weed as well. At first everything was fine, but I quickly found myself completely dazed. The next day, I woke up naked in my bed and I had no idea what had happened.
There's a lot of fake Xanax out there, which can be dangerous. Are your pills real or fake?
We sell the real product, made by the brand Pfizer. But Pfizer is reducing the production of Xanax. I think they sell it less because there's a less expensive version of the same drug on the market, and more and more doctors are prescribing the cheaper version.
Which do customers prefer?
People want Xanax due to the shape of the pills, which people recognise from seeing them in hip-hop culture. Xanax will always sell better than other brands of alprazolam, thanks to its reputation. But in the end, people are just looking for an effect, so they'll buy whatever they can find.
What are your profit margins?
We make a good profit. Through our supplier we buy a box of 50 pills for €20 (£16.60). We sell the pills for €5 (£4.15) each. If they seem a bit stupid, we charge ten. For a whole box of Xanax, we charge €90 (£75) to €150 (£125).
How busy are you?
At first, it really became a madhouse here. People were coming to buy all day long. I even used to wake up in the middle of the night for some people. The customers expect you to be available 24/7. I had problems with my landlord, so I told a lot of people that I'd stopped selling. Now, we don't accept more than about 15 regular customers, and we make between €500 (£415) to €700 (£582) profit a month. Sometimes new faces appear, but not as much as before.
Your customers come to your apartment. Doesn't that scare you?
No. If people give my number to others, they always ask for my permission first. And if someone I don't know turns up, I ask them who our friend in common is. That's how I operate. It's not like we have a goldmine and a stock of Xanax here anyway. With most people I can leave my things out while I go to the toilet without worrying.
What do you spend the profits on?
I use it to buy cigarettes and other drugs, like weed and coke. It's not like I go without. It's all in cash as well, so I don't notice it. My drug selling income isn't absolutely necessary, because I also have a normal job – it's just supplementary revenue that makes my life easier.
Are you scared of getting caught?
Not really. I never sell in clubs or parties. One of my mates was arrested. He owed a lot of money to another dealer, so I'd sold him some Xanax at purchase price so he could sell it and pay off his debts. But he went to sell the pills at a club in Ghent and was caught by the police. He had to appear in court and pay a €2,500 (£2,080) fine.
Do you ever think about stopping selling Xanax?
Our supplier is finding it harder and harder to steal the pills. I said to myself that, if it has to stop, then it stops. It's no big deal. After all, it's not a lifestyle I want to maintain on a long-term basis. So we're going to carry on until the stock runs out.