- As national attention focuses on the growing epidemic of opioid overdoses, some experts suggest benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium are also being overprescribed and contributing to the spate of overdose-related deaths.
- Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate there were more than 22,000 overdose-related deaths from prescription drugs in 2013, and that benzos were involved in 31% of those deaths, STAT reports.
- A research team led by Dr. Joanna Starrels of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York published a new study in the American Journal of Public Health that examines how benzo use has evolved recently by analyzing data on prescriptions and overdoses between 1996 and 2013.
The researchers found a troubling trend in which the prescription rate for benzos rose 37% during the study period and the overdose death rate skyrocketed more than 500%.
They attribute the difference in these rates to riskier use of benzos, which are prescribed for conditions including anxiety and insomnia.
One of those risks is in the use of benzos alongside opioids, experts say, because it can lead to breathing problems, coma and death.
“Prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines together is like putting gasoline on a fire," Dr. David Juurlink of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who was not involved in the study, was quoted by STAT.
Experts add benzos on their own or in combination with alcohol are also a part of the issue, as well as an increase in the quantity of each presription.
"Interventions to reduce the use of benzodiazepines or improve their safety are needed," the study concludes.