D

eaths from opioids grab news headlines, government budgets, and the futures of troubled people. But these deadly drugs often have help. Benzodiazepines — underestimated and, some say, overprescribed — are killing people, too.

“There’s a lot of attention on opioids,” said Dr. Joanna Starrels, an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “But I think that epidemiologists need to pay closer attention to the role of benzodiazepines in overdose deaths.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 22,000 people in the United States died of overdoses involving prescription drugs in 2013, the most recent year with available records. Benzos like Xanax and Valium — a class of medications commonly prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions — were involved in 31 percent of those deaths.

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To see how benzo use has changed in recent years, Starrels and her colleagues tracked prescription data and overdose numbers between 1996 and 2013. They found that the percentage of adults filling a benzo prescription increased by about 37 percent, from 4.1 percent to 5.6 percent, over the study period, while the overdose death rate shot up by more than 500 percent, from 0.58 per 100,000 adults at the turn of the millennium to about 3 per 100,000 throughout the early part of this decade.

“The rate of overdose deaths rose faster than the rate of prescriptions,” said Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, another study author from Einstein.

Why then might benzo prescriptions prove more deadly? “Our guess is that people are using these prescriptions in a riskier way,” said Cunningham, who, together with Starrels and their team, published the findings Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

A risk often taken by users is combining benzos with opioids, which can lead to difficulty breathing, coma, or death. “Prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines together is like putting gasoline on a fire,” said Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who was not involved with the study.

But benzos alone or in combination with alcohol are also to blame for some of the overdose uptick. And, as the Einstein researchers showed, it’s not just the number of benzo prescriptions but the quantity filled in each script that has risen in recent years.

“Benzodiazepines are grossly overprescribed,” Juurlink said, “and many people don’t necessarily benefit from them.”

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  • I prefer Librium Ativan and Flunitrazipam for frigid first dates, sedating small negroid children and injured livestock before sodomization.
    Xanax is better taken injected into my anus with No4 Heroin or speed/Ritalin speedball.
    Valium, Tamazapam and clonazepam are all great for coming down from IV cocaine and young pussy..

    • Injecting benzos does nothing you idiot, they’re not water soluble. If you’re going to troll, do it accurately.

  • I am taking Clonazepam 5mg a day for the last 22 years and 75mg of Methadone for the past 11 years!! I get theraputic help for my HUGE PANIC attacks and never nod out or anything negative!! And if you do some searches online you will find that allmost twice as many people die of second hand smoke 4017 in 2013 to your 22 thousand people from overdoses!! Mainly thanx to all the pill mills in FL and other states! There are alot of people who get help from taking both meds!! Your just focusing on the negative wich is not right!!!

  • We’re not all drug addicts. Due to a severe panic/anxiety disorder I was prescribed between 1.5-2mg klonopin twice a week a few years ago, it still works great and I can’t imagine life without it. I never drink, I dont take opiods, I don’t even drink coffee. I also take a low dose of paxil and seroquel daily. If you use benzos, communicate honestly with your doctor and be responsible, it may save your life.

  • Don’t attempt to take a benzo u will suffer agony symptoms I still bad from 7 years there no life till the end i been in sideb17 months fed up drainage brutal long lasting

  • I do not drink more than 1/3 of a pint of beer twice a month. Literally. I tried all forms of therapy to relieve severe, life-long OCD. I have had seizures all my life. A psychiatrist put me on xanax, .25 mg/night 20 years ago. That Immediately relieved my OCD. I have no side effects at all. I have never felt a need to get a higher dosage. But my new psychiatrist is making me go off it. Why? Why not look at this on a patient by patient review system. If the person has never overdosed, does not mix it with alcohol, has never asked for more of the medication, and it helps them—why can’t it be prescribed? I think there is a huge puritanical surge in America. Nobody can drink or smoke or enjoy food (“the obesity crisis!”). Medications that work are Not OK. It’s just absurd.

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