Steadily growing in use over the past 10 years, Benzodiazepines (often called “benzos”) have moved to a noticeable and concerning level of use. In fact, it’s reached the point where nearly one third of all overdoses involving opioids include benzos.
Created as a prescription sedative used to treat patients experiencing anxiety or insomnia, the medical use of this is for calming or even sedating a person. It does this through raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain (known as GABA). Benzos come in many forms, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).
As is the case with the creation of prescription narcotics, their non-approved usage is not only unsafe, but deadly. Benzodiazepines, taken with other drugs, is extremely dangerous.
“Adding benzos to opiates is a deadly combination as it causes respiratory depression and death,” explained Dr. Joseph George, an addiction specialist with the Michigan Addiction Center, based in the Detroit area.
Tracing the growth of it, adults filled prescriptions with Benzodiazepines in steadily growing numbers – from 8.1 million in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2013. That’s a jump of 67%. Along the way, the average amount obtained by each prescription more than tripled.
Dangerous prescription combo with opioids
And shockingly, the percentage of patients receiving multiple prescriptions including both a pharmaceutical opioid and benzos has skyrocketed (from 9% in 2001 to 17% in 2013).
Why is it unsafe? Because both opioids and benzos work as sedatives that suppress breathing. Today, the deadly combination has made it to the street level.
“Today’s street heroin is literally fentanyl laced with Xanax,” Dr. George said. “That’s why kids are dying from adding benzos to fentanyl, making them think it’s heroin.”
One fourth of all those who died of a drug overdose in 2013 had benzos in their bloodstream. Also, users who combine benzos and opioids (knowingly or unknowingly) are more likely to experience drug-related emergency room visits or hospital admissions.
Statistics tell a deadly story
Other statistics bear out the dangerous combination.
In North Carolina, the overdose death rate of those co-prescribed benzos and opioids was 10 times higher than those prescribed only opioids. In Canada, 60 percent of overdose deaths of those prescribed opioids for non-cancer pain also showed a positive test for benzos.
Results like this have spurred the Centers for Disease Control into establishing new guidelines; namely, that clinicians refrain from prescribing benzos and opioids together. That is why both prescriptions now carry ‘black box’ warnings, giving strong credence to dispensing both drugs concurrently.