FDA should warn of risks of opioid, benzo combo, say public health experts

Public health officials around the country want the Food and Drug Administration to warn people about the risks of taking opioids along with common anti-anxiety drugs.

Forty-one public health officials and researchers signed a petition, which will be submitted to the FDA Monday. It calls for so-called black box warnings on both opioids and benzodiazepines, indicating that their concurrent use “contributes to the risk of fatal overdose.” Opioids are intended primarily for pain relief; benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax, are tranquilizers that can treat anxiety.

Recent research supports this claim. A 2015 study in the British Medical Journal found that US veterans taking opioids who took more benzodiazepines were more likely to die than those who took fewer benzodiazepines.

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Deaths from both opioids and benzodiazepines have been on the rise. A recent study showed that the overdose rate from benzodiazepines increased much more quickly than the prescription rate in recent years.

Members of Congress have also called for labeling on more opioids, but not in relation to benzodiazepines. Currently, some opioids — extended-release and long-acting — are required to have warnings about the risk of abuse and misuse, but immediate-release opioids are not. However, the members of Congress write, immediate-release opioids are widely prescribed and just as dangerous.

Earlier this month, the FDA issued a statement saying that they will make these types of changes to immediate-release opioid labels.

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