Benzodiazepine Overdoses Multiply Sevenfold, Experts Fear New Drug Crisis
As the U.S. remains focused on addressing its deadly opioid epidemic, another drug crisis is looming in the form of benzodiazepine overdoses. New data shows that the number of benzodiazepine overdoses in the U.S. multiplied sevenfold between 1999 and 2015 from 1,135 to 8,791 deaths. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, but the drugs carry a high risk for dependence and addiction, and can cause a deadly overdose when used with opioids and alcohol.
Benzo Prescriptions and Overdoses Continue Rising in U.S.
In a new report published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers revealed that prescriptions for benzodiazepines, or benzos for short, increased by 67% between 1996 and 2013 from 8.1 million to 13.5 million. But the number of drugs obtained by people with these prescriptions more than tripled during the same period. Additionally, the rate of prescribing benzos with opioids nearly doubled between 2001 and 2014 from 9% to 17% — despite the fact benzos and opioids are a deadly combination that can cause an overdose.
Lead study author Dr. Anna Lembke says many U.S. doctors continue prescribing benzos because they remain unaware that these drugs carry a high risk for dependence and addiction. Plus, many doctors are not checking their state’s prescription monitoring systems to confirm whether patients already have existing benzo prescriptions before writing new prescriptions.
Many patients who use benzos are taking the drugs daily not knowing that long-term use can negate the drug’s effects and worsen anxiety and insomnia. People who become addicted to benzos can even buy highly potent synthetic versions of the drug on the Internet — just like people who are addicted to opioids can buy fentanyl and counterfeit painkillers online. Unfortunately, synthetic benzos are far more dangerous than prescription benzos, and can instantly trigger a deadly overdose.
Tips for Using Benzos Safely
Benzos are central nervous system depressants that slow down brain activity to help you feel relaxed and fall asleep more easily. Like opioids, benzos are generally prescribed for short-term use due to the way these drugs can trigger dependence and addiction. Lembke says benzos are best used intermittently a few times per week when needed, since daily use can make the drugs less effective and cause addiction.
If you’re taking benzos for legitimate medical reasons, talk to your doctor about a tapering schedule so you’re not using the drugs long-term. Frequent use of benzos should always be limited to no more than two to four weeks. Also, ask your doctor about less risky ways to treat your medical condition, such as exercising regularly and improving your diet to naturally treat insomnia.
Other tips for using benzos safely:
- Take benzos only as directed — do not misuse or use the drugs in other ways.
- Avoid using benzos with opioids and alcohol to lower the risk for an overdose.
- Do not use counterfeit benzos obtained from a source other than your doctor or pharmacy.
- Only use benzos if you have a valid prescription.
- Do not share or give away your benzos to other people, including friends and family.
- Keep benzos locked away and out of reach of children and visitors to your home.
- Don’t stop using benzos cold turkey, since this can cause life-threatening complications.
How to Treat Benzodiazepine Dependence
Benzo withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be severe and life-threatening, especially if you’ve been using the drugs for an extended period of time. If you are addicted to benzos and need help getting clean, a drug detox center can put you on a tapering schedule to reduce the risk for severe withdrawal symptoms like panic attacks, seizures, and hallucinations.
Tapering is when your doctor reduces your doses of benzos gradually over time so you can reduce your odds of facing severe withdrawal symptoms and the risk for complications. Benzo dependence can also be treated using a medical detox, which allows you to withdraw from the drugs while being monitored by licensed medical staff who can intervene at any time to reduce complications. Benzo tapering and detox treatments usually take place in an inpatient treatment setting where you can also receive therapy and support to overcome addiction in full both physically and mentally.
If you need help recovering from benzodiazepine addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to speak with an addiction counselor. We’ll discuss all your treatment options, and help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to help you achieve lifelong sobriety from benzos.