GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A type of drug with a recognizable name may be contributing to overdoses amid the nationwide opioid epidemic.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says about a third of people who overdose on an opioid also have benzodiazepines in their system.
“The combination of the two depresses the central nervous system so far that you may stop breathing,” Dr. Sandy Dettmann, who has an addiction treatment practice in Grand Rapids, explained.
Benzodiazepines, more commonly recognized by brand names like Xanax or Klonopin, are included in the drug class of sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics.
“They’re only supposed to be prescribed for two to four weeks,” Dettmann said of benzodiazepines, also known as benzos. “It’s for anxiety. There are other uses for benzos like seizures. If you’re having a seizure and I give you a benzodiazepine, it’s likely to stop the seizure.”
Dettmann explained the drugs affect the same parts of the brain as alcohol.
“They’re extremely addictive,” she warned. “If you abruptly stop benzodiazepines for a period of time, it’s potentially life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal and benzo withdrawal can kill you.”
And the use of benzos is on the rise. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults who filled a benzodiazepine prescription increased by 67 percent.
“I think the next crisis is already benzos. There are many people out there whose lives are being wiped out by benzodiazepines,” Dettmann said. “Physicians are overprescribing benzodiazepines and they have been for quite some time.”
She said benzos should be used only for short-term treatment of anxiety. She said the most effective long-term treatment is therapy.