Benzodiazepines: The Drug Epidemic You Don’t Know About

“I absolutely believe [benzos] have a place. Benzodiazepines are a fantastic medication to deal with and to cope with infrequent and unnatural experiences. Once it becomes a coping mechanism to deal with your life, we have to question what we are doing here.”

~ Dr. Brent Boyett, D.O., D.M.D

While the ongoing – and worsening – opioid crisis is dominating the news headlines, there is another drug menace that is going largely unmentioned– benzodiazepine tranquilizers.

Approximately 1 out of every 3 prescription drug deaths involve “benzos”. In 2016 alone, these drugs killed 10,684 Americans. Even worse, the death toll is rising, because in 2015, there were “only” 8791 fatal overdoses. That is a one-year increase of 21.5%.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of tranquilizing anxiolytic prescription medications typically dispensed for:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Spasms
  • Seizures
  • Alcohol withdrawal

Common benzos include:

  • Xanax/Alprazolam – Between 2010 and 2014, nearly 10% of all drug overdose deaths in America involved alprazolam.
  • Librium/Chlordiazepoxide
  • Klonopin/Clonazepam
  • Valium/Diazepam
  • Ativan/Lorazepam
  • Restoril/Temazepam
  • Serax/Oxazepam

Are Benzodiazepines the Next Drug Epidemic?

“What we’re seeing is just like what happened with opioids in the 1990. It really does begin with overprescribing. Liberal therapeutic use of drugs in a medical setting tends to normalize their use. People start to think they’re safe and, because they make them feel good, it doesn’t matter where they get them or how many they use.”

~ Dr. Anna Lembke, a researcher and addiction specialist at Stanford University

Benzodiazepines are among the most-prescribed medications in America, and the problem continues to grow:

  • In 1996, approximately 1 million Americans possessed a benzodiazepine prescription.
  • Today, that number is over 5 million.
  • At the same time, the amount of medication contained in the average prescription rose by 40%.

Why Are Benzodiazepines Dangerous?

Benzodiazepine prescriptions are widespread, but their use may not be the smart choice for many patients.”

~Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

This is significant, because benzos have an extremely-high potential for dependency and addiction. They are severely habit-forming, even when are taken exactly as prescribed.

Benzodiazepine addiction can be so acute that if a person starts taking a drug abruptly, it can trigger dangerous and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The danger of benzodiazepine use increases when the medication is taken with other depressants, such as opioid painkillers, alcohol, or sleeping medications. In fact, almost 75% of all benzo-related overdose deaths also involve opioids.

Polydrug abuse and overdose is a real danger:

  • Three-fourths of overdoses—and 98% of those that are fatal—involve multiple substances.
  • 2001: 9% of patients prescribed opioid painkillers also used benzodiazepines.
  • 2013: Concurrent use rates had increased to 17%.
  • 80% deaths involving heroin, methadone, or buprenorphine also involve benzos.
  • Benzo and opioid co-abuse triples the risk of psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Additionally, the probability of needing a prescription for suicidal ideation DOUBLES.
  • Between 2005 and2011, there were almost 250,000 ER trips for adverse opioid/benzo reactions.
  • During that same time period, there were nearly 164,000 ER trips for alcohol/benzo interactions.
  • Another 43,000 ER visits resulted when all three substances were used.
  • 40% of those ended with a “serious outcome” – long-term disability, serious injury, or death.

What Does All of This Mean?

If you or someone you care about has ever been prescribed a benzodiazepine tranquilizer, there is a real risk of dependence, abuse, addiction, and overdose. When this happens, specialized professional care is a must. NEVER tried to quit benzodiazepines abruptly or on your own – withdrawal can be fatal. ALWAYS detox from benzos under the close supervision of trained medical personnel.

Recovery from benzodiazepine addiction requires expert care and evidenced-based treatment strategies. Since 1978, Chapman House Treatment Centers has been one of the most-respected drug rehabs in Orange County. If you need help, contact Chapman House TODAY.