Over the past several years, the media has paid a lot of attention to the opioid epidemic, without noting another silent killer: the over-prescription of benzodiazepines. Benzos prescriptions such as Klonopin, Xanax, and Ativan, used primarily to help with anxiety disorders, have been rising steadily. Research shows they are increasingly prescribed for off-label use, without regards to their addictive properties.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines. Now researchers studying the use of these drugs say that mixing them with opiates could be raising the likelihood of addiction.

Opioids and Benzos are a Fatal Combination

People who use both opiates and benzo medication are increasing their risk of ending up in the ER with an overdose and even the risk of death. In 2015, 23 percent of overdose victims tested positive for benzodiazepines alongside opioids, with coroners noting it as a possible factor in their deaths. Overdose death rates among people who take both types of medications are ten times higher than among those only receiving opioids, according to NIDA.

Combining opioids and benzos is incredibly dangerous because both types of drugs sedate users and suppress breathing, which is what kills people when they overdose. Both drugs also cause impaired thinking and grogginess, making users less likely to be able to take action such as calling 911 when they overdose.

Benzos Can Be Highly Addictive

Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 570% increase in substance abuse treatment admissions with both benzodiazepine and prescription opioid abuse. Prescription opioids and benzodiazepines both carry FDA “black box” warnings on the label to warn doctors and patients of the risks of taking both of them together.

Benzos are considered to be highly addictive when misused, and even patients who use them correctly must taper off them to avoid withdrawal effects such as headaches, mood swings, muscle pain, and even seizures. Medical supervision is recommended by addiction professionals, preferably in a clinical environment.

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