The main focus of lawmakers, medical professionals and educators regarding substance abuse has been on the opiate epidemic in the United States lately. For good reason too, because every day 44 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers, and the rising number of heroin-related deaths is equally as alarming.
However, because all the attention has been on preventing these from occurring, people have ignored another silent killer. Benzodiazepines like Xanax or Klonopin have been killing people at a rate increase that is beginning to surpass even prescription painkillers, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
“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,” commented Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Dr. Bachhuber led a team of researchers in investigating the rising amount of benzodiazepine overdoses by compiling several large surveys that were conducted on prescription trends and overdose fatalities. They quickly found that the amount of benzos that were being prescribed had increased significantly over the years. This was an important discovery because it shows that doctors are relying on the drugs to handle their patients’ symptoms despite the very real possibility of addiction and subsequent overdose.
Typically, benzodiazepines are prescribed to address anxiety disorders and other serious problems. However, the pills are extremely addictive and can cause an even more intense level of anxiety or bring on seizures if the person has a sudden cessation of use. These dangerous symptoms often cause people to continue using more and more of the pills, and a growing number are experiencing benzodiazepine overdoses. Their level of danger increases when combined with one or more additional substances, such as alcohol or other prescription drugs.
Physicians are being pressed to review their prescribing practices given the number of prescription drug problems in the country, and it would be extremely helpful if the U.S. followed suit of other modern nations and disallowed drug companies to market prescriptions directly to consumers. Understanding the trends of abuse and overdoses is vital when it comes to saving lives and preventing undo harm to patients and their families.