A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that taking prescription opioids with benzodiazepines (BZDs), commonly used to cope with sleep-related disorders and anxiety, heightens the odds of an opioid overdose.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal on March 14, 2017, included more than 300,000 privately insured participants in the age group of 18 to 64 years, who were on opioids between 2001 and 2013. As many as 9 percent of the participants were prescribed BZDs in 2001, in addition to the opioids. Over the years, researchers observed an 80 percent increase in the number of individuals with a valid prescription for BZDs as well, reaching a solid 17 percent in 2013.
The researchers also took several other factors such as age, sex and presence of other ailments into consideration, as they could have impacted the findings. The scientists concluded that concurrent use of both the drugs exposed the participants to a greater risk of an emergency room visit for opioid overdose. Describing it as a largely observational study, Dr. Eric Sun, the study author, said that avoiding the concurrent use of BZDs and opioids can go a long way in minimizing the risk of hospitalization for overdose by 15 percent.
The study team emphasized that doctors and medical practitioners should prescribe opioids with caution, particularly to patients who are on BZDs. Moreover, there is a greater need to spread awareness through education programs to warn both prescribers and patients about the risks of combined use of both the medications.
Individuals addicted to opioids likely to abuse BZDs
According to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, two in five people seeking detox for addiction to heroin or opioids reported taking BZDs. Researchers discovered that 23 percent of the participants got the BZDs such as Xanax from a doctor, whereas 48 percent admitted buying them from the streets and another 28 percent said that they got them from a friend or family member. However, the only difference was those who procured them legally used the drugs to manage anxiety, whereas the others who got them from the streets simply wanted a high.
As people start abusing BZDs along with opioids in a bid to enhance the euphoric effects of the painkillers, they eventually develop greater tolerance and require a higher dose to produce the same tranquilized and sedated high. Across the United States, there are about 15 BZDs, which have a huge potential for abuse and addiction. Also, instances where people abuse a combination of BZDs, opioids along with alcohol are on the rise. In the past, there have been innumerable instances of polydrug abuse — using both a benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam, and an opiate like morphine — leading to a massive respiratory depression and death.
Dangers of combining opioids with benzodiazepines
One of the two deadliest outcomes of combining opioid painkillers with BZDs is the problem of oversedation or the inability to wake up or respond to stimuli. An oversedated person is vulnerable to falling if in a standing position. Besides, the odds of meeting with a serious road accident, if they are driving, are also high. In addition, such people could easily slip into a coma.
Secondly, both opioid painkillers and BZDs can shut down breathing and stop the supply of oxygen to the brain. This would eventually paralyze all vital organs, causing brain damage and even death. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a new warning on the dangers of mixing BZDs and opioids.
In view of public health and safety, the FDA has made it mandatory to use boxed warnings while labeling prescription opioid painkillers and cough medicines, including BZDs. According to an FDA review, the use of combined benzo-opioid dose or other drugs that depress the central nervous system (CNS) has resulted in devastating side effects, including slowed breathing and death by choking.
Sovereign Health can help
Drugs like prescription opioids and heroin have wreaked havoc in the U.S., something that needs to be curbed at any cost. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 183,000 people have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids in the country between 1999 and 2015. The CDC data also shows that 25 percent of people who take prescription opioids long term for non-cancer pain struggle with addiction.
Sovereign Health understands the plight of someone who is unable to discontinue the use of harmful substances despite the negative impact on his or her life. Our customized drug addiction treatment programs are tailored to individual needs in order to treat the person holistically. Sovereign Health of San Clemente’s pain program is designed to help foster addiction recovery by facilitating addiction treatment for individuals whose pain has led to an addiction of either prescription and/or illegal drugs.
If you or your loved one is battling addiction to opioids or any other drug, get in touch with Sovereign Health to gain access to the latest and innovative treatment methods at our state-of-the-art drug addiction rehab centers spread across the U.S. Whether you are looking for substance abuse treatment centers in California or at a place closer home, call at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 819-0427 or chat online to know about the most effective rehab programs at our reliable drug addiction detox centers.