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Benzodiazepine Overdoses Increase, New Study Shows

Benzodiazepine OverdosesA recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that benzodiazepines are the second-leading cause of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States.

Benzodiazepine Overdoses

An unexpected result

When Dr. Marcus A. Bachhuber, assistant professor of medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, began the study about benzodiazepines (a class of drugs that includes Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and others), he and his team expected to see a steady plateau or declining trend in prescriptions. “Going into this study, we thought that prescribing would be steady or decline in the late 2000s,” Dr. Bachhuber explained. After all, the awareness around prescription drugs – primarily because of opioids – was undoubtedly heightened over this period.

Contrary to expectations, however, not only did prescriptions for benzodiazepine not decline, they in fact rose by more than 30%: The percentage of U.S. adults who filled at least one prescription a year jumped from 4.1% in 1996 to 5.5% in 2013. Additionally, as CNN reports, the amount of medicine in a prescription also doubled.

Deadly overdoses

From 1999 to 2010, the study revealed that overdose deaths related to benzodiazepines skyrocketed from .58 per 100,000 to 3.07; in other words, overdose deaths quadrupled during that time.

While prescriptions did increase over the same time period, that factor alone could not explain such a dramatic increase in overdose fatalities. Dr. Bachhuber says it’s more likely that the rise can be attributed to people changing how they were taking the drugs. “People used benzodiazepines in more risky ways as time went on,” he said. This could include taking more medicine than prescribed, as well as combining prescribed benzodiazepines with things like other prescription drugs, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

It’s also worth mentioning that a recent separate study shows that 75% of benzodiazepine overdose fatalities also involved opioid use.

Overcoming benzodiazepine addiction

Benzodiazepine dependence can happen to anyone who uses the drugs – even those taking them as directed. Combining them with other substances, especially opioids and/or alcohol can have deadly consequences. If you find yourself using benzodiazepine medications to get high, taking more than prescribed, or mixing your prescription (or someone else’s) with alcohol or other medications, it’s never too late to get the help you need. The Watershed employs a staff of experts who are ready to give you the care you need. Give us a call: 1-800-861-1768.

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