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Overdoses From Anti-Anxiety Medications Have Quadrupled

Overdoses From Anti-Anxiety Medications Have Quadrupled

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Author: Shernide Delva

The amount of overdoses from anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Valium has quadrupled between 1996 and 2013, according to a recent study.  During the same time period, the amounts of prescriptions to anti-anxiety medications have also quadrupled. Anti-anxiety drug overdoses are becoming the latest epidemic to hit the United States.

The opioid epidemic continues to gain political attention and now anti-anxiety medication abuse is going under the magnifying glass.  In less than two decades, between 1996 and 2013, the overdose rate from anti-anxiety medications spiked from 0.58 per 100,000 adults to 3.07 per 100,000 adults.

“We found that the death rate from overdoses involving benzodiazepines, also known as ‘benzos,’ has increased more than four-fold since 1996 — a public health problem that has gone under the radar,” said Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, also concluded that a third of the people who died from overdoses in 2013 were taking benzos. Overdoses from benzos have climbed in numbers that exceed the amount being prescribed, hinting an even more concerning problem:

“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,” Bachhuber said.

Drugs specifically like Valium and Xanax have tripled in prescriptions and overdoses from those drugs have quadrupled. It is unclear why the number of overdoses has increased so much. Studies show that people tend to be on these drugs for longer stretches of time than was common in the past. Also, many are consuming these drugs without a prescription. Furthermore, the number of prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications has increased by 67 percent, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million. The number of pills patients receive with their prescriptions has also gone up.

Researchers have also noticed an increase in emergency visits related to anti-anxiety and insomnia medications. There is a correlation between the amount of anti-anxiety prescriptions and a high number of emergency visits related to them. In 2011, the Center for Disease Control reported that over 500,000 ER visits were related to these medications.

Study after study confirms how fatal these drugs can be. One study conducted in 2014, found that those who took anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills had double the risk of death compared to those who did not. This particular study tracked more than 34,000 people over seven years and was published in the British Medical Journal.

What are Benzos?

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” are commonly used to treat anxiety, mood disorders and insomnia. While many have used drugs like this for medical reasons successfully, they are known to be highly addictive. In previous articles, we have talked about benzos medications. They are part of a class of drugs known as anxiolytics (also an anti-panic or anti-anxiety agent), which are medications that inhibit or ease anxiety.

Benzos have been around for quite some time, however, it was not until the 70s when vast amounts of people began taking them for stress, leading to the adverse effects commonly seen today. Benzos continue to soar in popularity. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of prescriptions soared from 69 million to 83 million. Big pharma practices and highly successful marketing strategies have boosted the sale of drugs like Xanax and continue to make anti-anxiety medications very popular.

Overdoses from benzos are a very concerning problem because the onset of symptoms is typically rapid. Symptoms of an overdose can develop within 4 hours.

Some symptoms are:

  • Impairment of central nervous system
  • Intoxication
  • Dizziness
  • Double Vision
  • Impaired balance
  • Impaired motor function
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Anxiety
  • Delirium
  • Combativeness
  • Hallucinations

Serious symptoms of a potentially fatal overdose include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hypoxemia- low oxygen in blood
  • Hypotension- low blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma

An overdose from benzos is a very serious situation. Unfortunately, these recent statistics conclude that the problem is only getting worse. The good news is that if you are struggling with substance abuse, there are programs that can help you get on the path to recovery.

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