Friday, January 24, 2020

Benzodiazepines are Prescribed at Alarming Rates

Each day in America, some 130 people lose their lives to an overdose. As most of our readers know, the United States has long been amid an opioid scourge. While opioids are the driving force of fatal overdoses, other drugs are playing a significant role too.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that there were about 13,000 deaths involving methamphetamine nationwide in 2018. What's more, meth-related overdoses surpassed prescription painkillers since late last year.

While stimulant use is a growing concern in the U.S., and Congressional lawmakers are taking steps to tackle the problem, there is another drug that is stealing the lives of Americans. Prescription sedatives such as benzodiazepines or "benzos" are often involved in overdose deaths. 

Benzodiazepines are a class of central nervous system depressants. Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (Lorazepam), and Klonopin (clonazepam) are all part of this family of highly addictive drugs. The medications listed above are the most commonly prescribed, but there are many others as well.

Benzos are dangerous when used alone, and regular use and abuse leads to addiction. When too many of these types of drugs are taken, an overdose can result. However, when opioids and benzodiazepines are used in conjunction, the risk of overdose increases significantly.

While there are some indications that doctors are now less willing to prescribe opioids than before, the same is not the case for drugs like Xanax and Klonopin. Alarming new data shows a dramatic rise in benzodiazepine prescriptions in recent years.

A Multifaceted Overdose Epidemic

The CDC has released data on benzodiazepine prescriptions that are cause for significant concern. Researchers found that between 2014 and 2016, doctors prescribed these hazardous drugs at about 65.9 million office-based doctor visits, CNN reports. That figure breaks down to 27 annual visits per 100 adults.

When benzodiazepines are taken as prescribed, they can alleviate people's anxiety and help people who struggle with sleeping. However, when this class of drug is misused or mixed with alcohol or opioids, then overdose risk increases exponentially.

The study found that one-third of doctor's visits where benzos were prescribed also involved an overlapping opioid prescription from 2014 to 2016, according to the article. Many patients are not aware that an admixture of both drugs can lead to an overdose.

As mentioned above, benzodiazepine abuse is hazardous on its own. They are incredibly addictive, and detoxification often requires medical supervision. Unlike opioid withdrawal, benzos detoxification can be fatal; heavy users can experience seizures that can be deadly.

"This is a really undercovered story," said Keith Humphreys, a psychologist and Esther Ting Memorial Professor at Stanford University. "I think of it as the hidden element of our overdose epidemic that does need attention."

Other study findings include that women sought benzodiazepine prescriptions more than men, and a primary care provider wrote almost half of all prescriptions, the article reports. The researchers also found that the number of doctor visits for benzos increased with age.

"The most alarming finding in this study are the numbers about the elderly, this is the population that face the most danger from the drugs," said Dr. Joanna Starrels, an associate professor in the department of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Post-Treatment Support for Benzodiazepine Addiction

If you recently completed an addiction treatment program for a sedative or opioid use disorder, then you can significantly benefit from a structured sober living. At HAUS Recovery, we can help you strengthen your program and mitigate the risk of

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