Anti-Anxiety Drugs Linked to Surge in Overdoses

Overdose deaths by people who use benzodiazepine medications have increased dramatically in the last two decades (benzos). Medications like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are among the most commonly used sedatives. Anxiety, mood disturbances, and insomnia are the most common conditions for which they are prescribed.

You are not alone if you use one of these medications. The number of filled benzodiazepine prescriptions expanded by 67 percent over the 18-year study period, from 8.1 million in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2013.

The number of deaths linked to the use of these sedatives is even more alarming. Benzodiazepine overdoses accounted for 31% of the almost 23,000 prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2013. When compared to 1996, this is a fourfold improvement.

“The increased amount of benzodiazepines given to patients—more than doubling over time—indicates a higher daily dosage or more days of therapy, all of which may raise the risk of lethal overdose,” said senior author Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S.

However, increased dosages may not be the only factor contributing to the rise of benzodiazepine overdoses. There are two additional options.

People may be using these medications from places other than medicinal providers, according to Dr. Starrels. Additionally, mixing benzos with alcohol or other medications can result in fatal overdoses.

She also points out that opioid use has risen exponentially over the majority of the time frame covered in her research. And it turns out that opioids are responsible for about 75% of benzodiazepine overdose deaths.

“Reducing benzodiazepine use would be an obvious way to increase benzodiazepine safety,” said study co-author Chinazo Cunningham, M.D., M.S. “However, we should also emphasize the risk of lethal overdose when benzodiazepines are used with prescription painkillers or alcohol.”

Sean Hennessy, Pharm.D., Ph.D., another study co-author, says, “This problem is almost completely preventable, since the most important cause for using benzodiazepines is fear, which can be handled efficiently and much more easily with talk counseling.”

SOURCE: Overdose deaths from common sedatives have surged, new study finds. Press Release. Albert Einstein College of Medicine via EurekAlert

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