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Deaths 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.

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.”

  • The headline should read DEA losing war on marijuana but do not worry they’ve set their sights on your doctor! Need surgery having panic attacks stock up on tylenol because it’s the only thing left despite recent clinical trials proving no benefit only harm! Next Trump’s nanny state coming for your dog’s drugs!

  • Doctors will no longer prescribe therapeutic drug to people who suffer, like my 80 year old mother. But doctors can prescribe suicide pills to the elderly and sick. WTF is going on in this country. Parents, keep your prescription drugs locked up! This is part your fault.

    • You’re exactly right! The opioid crisis is NOT from prescriptions it’s from the CARTELS! The government doesn’t know how to stop them so they blame it on people they KNOW they can harass! Stop the drugs pouring over the border and the crisis stops..the end! Is there ANYONE fighting for the RIGHTS of Americans that suffer from chronic pain AND anxiety disorders?!!

  • 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..

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • i know its wat past the post but I couldn;t agee more. I have ben on xanax foe 14 years now. I am bain college now getting A,s in every class and doing well. My doctor that I have now decided that he is no longer keeping in the benzos. He stopped perscribing them to everyone. I have never asked for more or any thing like that, as you said, I know three i was on 1 mg twice a day and came all the way down to .25 mg, 30 a month and take as needed, i am having a hard time finding a doctor to perscribe them. I know three people who this doctor, i won’t mention names that he has done tis to and two are dead and one waiting for a court date for having medicine from the street. The are taking people off medicine that have been working for them for years and want to try all these medicines that have aleady been tried and didnt work. The people I know that are dead now if they would look at a base by base basis and left well enough alone. The idiots making these decisions are killing even more people because they dont have enough common sense to figure this out. The drugs they overdosed and died on were fake pills made to look like xanax amd was made with fenanyl in them. funny how they ust cut then off but its leagaal for these people to get these pills that look like something they are supposed to be. Also that it is leagal to but a machine that presses pills with the numbers and everything on them. Yeah. people are dying so lets stop perscibing people that need them so they will turn to the illegal drug trade of the streets. No wonder we have the drug problem we have in the united states. Last time I checked these drugs were made for a reason in the first place. If they were made just to perscribe to make money it doesnt make the medical profession and the pharmacutical companies any better than the cartels that are smuggling what we call illicit drugs. when I told my doctor the reason that i was on the meds in the first place he said it was all in my head.

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