Although opioid overdose deaths have been grabbing headlines and garnering attention in the 2016 presidential campaign, a recent online article in the American Journal of Public Health points out that the number of overdose deaths from benzodiazepines has also surged. These drugs are used to treat mood disorders, anxiety, and insomnia—and are better known as the widely prescribed sedatives, Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin.
Researchers Analyze Trends
Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Health system, and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to study prescription and usage trends for these drugs. To do so, they analyzed data from two sources:
- The federally sponsored Medical Expenditure Panel Survey
- Multiple cause-of-death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Findings: Increased Prescription Use
Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults purchasing a benzodiazepine prescription increased by 67%, and the average prescription quantity filled in a year more than doubled. During the same time frame, overdose deaths involving these drugs increased from .58 per 100,000 adults (1996) to 3.14 per 100,000 adults (2013)—a four-fold increase. Moreover, benzodiazepines were involved in 31% of the prescription drug overdose deaths in 2013.
Speculation on the Disproportionate Overdose Deaths
Overdoses from benzodiazepines have increased at a much faster rate than prescriptions for the drugs, indicating that people have been taking them in a riskier way over time,” said lead author Marcus Bachhuber, M.D., MS., assistant professor of medicine at Einstein and attending physician of internal medicine at Montefiore. Senior author Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S., associate professor of medicine at Einstein and attending physician of internal medicine at Montefiore offered these study findings as possible reasons for the increase in overdose deaths:
- Greater quantities of benzodiazepines prescribed to patients, indicating a higher daily dose or more days of treatment.
- Individuals at high risk for overdose using drugs obtained illegitimately.
- Use of alcohol & drugs like opioids with benzodiazepines.
Dr. Starrels points out that opioids were found in 75% of the overdose deaths attributable to benzodiazepines.
Don’t Risk an Overdose by Your Loved One
If you suspect a loved one is taking a deadly combination of prescribed and non-prescribed drugs with alcohol, act now. Waiting could mean an accidental overdose that takes the life of someone dear to you. The addiction specialists at Coast to Coast Recovery have the resources you need to save your addicted loved one: professional drug intervention, comfortable drug and alcohol detox, co-occurring mental illness treatment, and sober companions and transport services. Dial 800.210.8229 to start the treatment matching process today.
- Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Overdose deaths from common sedatives have surged, a new study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2016.